Taxol, a drug derived from the needles and twigs of the yew tree, has been used to treat advanced ovarian cancer and as a last-ditch alternative for women whose breast cancer has not responded to other drugs. Now researchers have found that women with early breast cancer (cancer that has not spread past the lymph nodes) can increase their chances of survival by taking the drug.
In a recent study, women were administered two common breast cancer drugs — doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide — after surgery. Some of the women were also given Taxol once every third week for twelve weeks, and these women had a 26% lower death rate than the women who did not receive Taxol. Taxol also reduced the rate of cancer recurrence by 22 percent.
Given that Taxol’s effects have not been tested in repeated, long term studies, recent findings are considered tentative and preliminary. However, many doctors believe that Taxol’s benefits are significant enough to warrant immediate use. “This is a very big advance and it can be put into practice right now,” said Larry Nortion, director of Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center’s breast center in New York.