After surgery to remove early breast cancer, a combination of chemotherapy medicines is usually recommended to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back (recurrence). One common combination is Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin), Cytoxan (chemical name: cyclophosphamide), and Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel).
A study found that including Taxol in the chemotherapy regimen didn't seem to offer any added benefits for women diagnosed with early breast cancers that were hormone-receptor-positive and HER2-negative. While the researchers don't recommend a change in the standard of care, they do think doctors should be aware of the results and talk about them with their patients.
For breast cancers that were HER2-positive, the study showed Taxol was very effective: the risk of recurrence was reduced by 41%. It’s important to note that this study only looked at women with early breast cancer. Taxol also can effectively treat advanced and metastatic breast cancers.
It's also important to note that this research only looked at women who received Taxol. There is another, different form of paclitaxel, Abraxane (chemical name: albumin-bound or nab paclitaxel). Also, Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel) is another chemotherapy medicine that is very similar to paclitaxel. This study didn't look at either Abraxane or Taxotere so we don't know if these findings apply to those medicines.
Getting the best breast cancer treatment can feel like a balancing act: You want to do as much as you can to get rid of the cancer and lower the risk of it coming back. But you'd like to avoid uncomfortable side effects that might lower your quality of life. The side effects of Taxol may include nausea, hair loss, and tingling or numbness in the hands and feet. If Taxol isn't helping to reduce the risk of recurrence, then some women may be able to skip it and avoid the side effects.
If you've been diagnosed with early breast cancer that is hormone-receptor-positive and HER2-negative and are considering chemotherapy that includes Taxol, talk to your doctor about these research results. Until more research is done with larger groups of women, your doctor may still recommend Taxol. Together, you and your doctor can decide on the best treatment plan for YOU.