Cancers Resistant to Anthracyclines May Respond to Taxotere-Xeloda Combo

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Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin) and Ellence (chemical name: epirubicin) are both anthracyclines, a type of chemotherapy medicine. Anthracyclines often are used to treat advanced-stage breast cancer. But sometimes cancers don't respond to an anthracycline. A study suggests that breast cancer that is resistant to an anthracycline may respond to a combination of two other chemotherapies, Taxotere (chemical name: docetaxel) and Xeloda (chemical name: capecitabine).

This research was presented at the 2008 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium.

There's really no agreement on the best treatment to use when breast cancer is resistant to an anthracycline. Other research has shown that Taxotere and Xeloda together could work better than Taxotere alone, but doctors were concerned about serious side effects when using the two medicines at the same time. So the researchers decided to study the combination.

The study included 47 women diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer. All the cancers had been treated with an anthracycline and either didn't respond or stopped responding to that treatment. The women then got low-dose Taxotere once a week and Xeloda once a day. Taxotere is given intravenously. Xeloda is a pill taken by mouth. If the first dose of Taxotere was tolerated well, the dose was increased later on for some of the women. All the women also took Celebrex (chemical name: celecoxib), an anti-inflammatory medicine to help reduce side effects.

Some of the women had to stop taking Taxotere and Xeloda because of serious side effects. The researchers were able to look at how 38 of the women responded to the treatment:

  • Thirteen of the women (34%) had a partial response to treatment -- the cancer may have shrunk or grew more slowly while on treatment.
  • In three women (8%), the breast cancer stopped growing for an extended period of time.
  • An average of about 4 months passed before the cancer showed signs of progressing in all the women; 16 women had about 8 months pass before the breast cancer showed signs of progressing.

Side effects were common and included:

  • a drop in blood cell counts (including white blood cells, which help fight infection)
  • neuropathy (numbness, tingling, and burning in the hands and feet)
  • diarrhea
  • vomiting
  • mouth sores
  • fatigue

While many of the women got benefits from the combination of Taxotere and Xeloda, more research is needed to see if using targeted therapies such as Herceptin (chemical name: trastuzumab), Tykerb (chemical name: lapatinib), or Avastin (chemical name: bevacizumab) along with this chemotherapy combination might offer even more benefits.

If you're being treated for advanced-stage breast cancer that isn't responding or stopped responding to Adriamycin or Ellence, you might want to talk to your doctor about this study and whether the combination of Taxotere and Xeloda might be a good next step for you.

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