Use of Anthracycline Breast Cancer Chemo Drugs Linked to Risks: Study

Researchers indicate that preliminary findings of an ongoing study suggest that health risks associated with a class of older chemotherapy drugs, known as anthracyclines, may outweigh the benefits provide for breast cancer patients, since alternatives are available.

The early findings of a study that looked at the effectiveness of breast cancer chemotherapy treatments was presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium on December 12. According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, researchers from the Breast Cancer International Research Group, which is conducting the study, said that it appears that anthracyclines are no more effective than other, newer chemotherapy drugs. However, use of the drugs in combination with Herceptin, may increase the risk of heart damage and leukemia as a consequnce of the chemotherapy.

Anthracyclines have been in use since the 1960s and are used to treat a wide range of cancers, such as leukemias, lymphomas, and breast, uterine, ovarian and lung cancers.

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The study compared the effectiveness of Roche Holding AG’s Herceptin in the treatment of an aggressive form of breast cancer, known as Her2-positive. Researchers are looking at data involving 3,222 woman with the breast cancer in an on-going 10-year study.

On Saturday, the preliminary five-year findings were reported, which indicate that use of anthracyclines in combination with Herceptin may be no more effective at treating Her2-positive breast cancer than other non-antracyclines used with Herceptin. Researchers said there was no statistical difference in how women fared under either drug combination. However, women given antracyclines showed increased heart problems and a higher number of cases of leukemia.

The other drugs, which included doxorubicin and epirubicin, do not carry anthracycline’s heart risk, according to researchers, raising questions about whether the benefit of the drugs is outweighed by the risks, since there appear to be alternative, safer, drugs.

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