Giving chemotherapy to women with operable breast cancer before they have surgery not after helps physicians pin down the best treatment regimen and can reduce the extent of surgery, according to a new systematic review.
Preoperative chemotherapy reduced chemo-related infections by 4 percent and the need for mastectomies by 17 percent when compared to postoperative chemotherapy, found reviewers led by Sven Mieog, M.D., of Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands.
Mieog and colleagues looked at 14 studies that included 5,500 women with operable breast cancer. Half of the women received preoperative chemotherapy and the rest received chemotherapy after surgery.
The data revealed a higher cancer recurrence rate in women who had chemotherapy before surgery, although this did not affect survival rates, which were similar for both groups.
"Ten studies reported overall survival data on 4,620 women involving 1,139 estimated deaths," the authors write. "There was no detectable difference between preoperative and postoperative chemotherapy."
The review appears in the current issue of The Cochrane Library, a publication of The Cochrane Collaboration, an international organization that evaluates research in all aspects of health care. Systematic reviews draw evidence-based conclusions about medical practice after considering both the content and quality of existing trials on a topic.
One reason for giving chemotherapy first is to shrink tumors before surgery, the researchers say.
Moreover, preoperative chemotherapy allows doctors to see if a tumor is resistant to a particular drug and thus adjust the dose or switch to another drug after surgery. The patient might avoid toxic side effects while getting another chance to receive appropriate systemic treatment, Mieog said.
After surgery, doctors can no longer gauge chemotherapy's effect on tumor size.