A large study looked at more than 1,200 women who had surgery to treat early-stage breast cancer that had spread to nearby lymph nodes. After surgery, all of the women got a particular combination of chemotherapy medicines called FEC. The FEC combination is made up of:
- fluorouracil (also called 5-fluorouracil or 5-FU)
- Ellence (chemical name: epirubicin)
- Cytoxan (chemical name: cyclophosphamide
About half the women in the study got another chemotherapy medicine, Taxol (chemical name: paclitaxel), after the FEC regimen. The other half got no other chemotherapy after FEC.
The women who got Taxol after FEC were more likely to be alive and free of breast cancer 5 years after diagnosis and treatment than the women who got only FEC:
- 78.5% of the women who got FEC followed by Taxol were alive and free of breast cancer
- 72.1% of women who got only FEC were alive and free of breast cancer.
The women who got Taxol after FEC were less likely to have the cancer come back in a location away from the breast, know as a distant metastasis.
Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to treat early-stage breast cancer to destroy any cancer cells that may have spread before surgery or may have been left behind after surgery. This is especially true for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer that has spread to nearby lymph nodes. Research has shown that using chemotherapy in this way can lower the risk of the breast cancer coming back and can improve overall survival. FEC is only one of many chemotherapy combinations used to treat early-stage breast cancer after surgery. Some of these chemotherapy combinations include Taxol. Taxol belongs to a group of chemotherapy medicines called taxanes. Abraxane (chemical name: albumin-bound or nab-paclitaxel) and Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel) are also taxanes.
If chemotherapy is part of your treatment plan after surgery for early-stage breast cancer, your doctor will consider all the chemotherapy options that make the most sense for your unique situation, weighing both the benefits and the potential risks of each approach. You might want to talk to your doctor about this study and ask whether including Taxol or another taxane in your chemotherapy regimen makes sense. Together you and your doctor can decide on the best treatment plan for you.
In the Breastcancer.org Chemotherapy section, you can read more about the different forms and combinations of chemotherapy, how they work, possible side effects, and what to consider when choosing a chemotherapy option.