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Adding Chemo to Tamoxifen Helps Some Breast Cancer Patients
Date:12/10/2009

Combo extended survival for certain women with estrogen-positive tumors, study found

THURSDAY, Dec. 10 (HealthDay News) -- Adding chemotherapy to standard cancer-suppressing tamoxifen can boost survival in postmenopausal women with the most common type of breast cancer, known as estrogen receptor-positive, and it's best given before the tamoxifen regimen starts, according to a new study.

"Chemotherapy with Adriamycin adds to your survival benefit over and above what tamoxifen would do if you are postmenopausal and have positive lymph nodes and estrogen receptor-positive cancer [the most common type]," explained Dr. Kathy Albain, the lead researcher and professor of medicine at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine.

And in another study, Albain found that screening breast tumors with an available multi-gene test spots patients who may not need this form of chemotherapy, despite fitting the standard profile.

Both studies are published online Dec. 10, the first in the journal The Lancet and the second in The Lancet Oncology. Albain is also due to present her findings Thursday at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in San Antonio, Texas.

In estrogen receptor-positive cancer, tumor cells carry many receptors on their surfaces to which estrogen can attach, fueling tumor growth. Tamoxifen works by blocking the receptors.

Experts have long debated whether women with estrogen receptor-positive cancers -- whose growth is fueled by circulating estrogen -- would get more benefit from having a chemotherapy regimen on top of tamoxifen.

Albain led a research team from multiple centers that followed nearly 1,500 breast cancer patients for up to 13 years, with a median (half longer, half less) of nearly nine years. All were past menopause and had hormone receptor-positive cancer that had spread to at least one lymph node in the armpit area.

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