No Consensus on Advanced Breast Cancer Treatment

International cancer experts presented findings from 5 different studies of a controversial treatment for advanced breast cancer at the American Society of Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting yesterday in Atlanta. Preliminary findings from the five studies were released last month, when officials agreed that the findings were sufficiently provocative to warrant their early release.

The studies concerned a treatment which consists of high-dosage chemotherapy treatment following by transplantation of bone marrow or stem cells to replace the marrow cells damaged by the chemotherapy. The treatment is very controversial because it produces severe side effects, sometimes causes death, and is very costly.

Studies by U.S., Scandinavian, and French researchers found no evidence that the treatment prolonged life, while a South African study found evidence that the treatment did prolong life in some women. Patients in the South African study were given a high-dosage chemotherapy treatment right after diagnosis, while patients in the remaining studies got the high-dose treatment only after receiving standard treatment.

Advocates for the treatment argued that the success of the South African study might be explained by its slightly different treatment, and urged other researchers to attempt to replicate its results. Opponents of the procedure argued that the risks of the procedure outweigh any possible benefits, noting that an estimated at 15 to 20% of patients in the recent studies died from the cancer treatment. They also pointed to the severity of the treatment’ side effects, which included severe infections, bleeding, organ damage, and persistant, painful mouth sores that can make it impossible to eat.


New York Times - May 18, 1999

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