Certain chemotherapy combinations work best

LONDON (Reuters) - Greek researchers have identified the chemotherapy combinations that appear to help women with advanced breast cancer live longest, they reported Tuesday.

Women who took a combination of a taxane-based therapy such as Taxol or paclitaxel, or Sanofi Aventis’s Taxotere, known generically as docetaxel, with other drugs lived a year longer than women who did not get chemotherapy.

Women given either a single taxane drug or a combination that included an anthracycline such as Adriamycin with older chemotherapy drugs lived an extra eight months compared to untreated women, said John Ioannidis of the University of Ioannina School of Medicine in Greece.

The findings are the first to compare different chemotherapy treatments used over the past 35 years to gauge how effective they are, he added.

“The main message is this is one type of cancer where we do have a number of treatments that are effective, said Ioannidis, who led the study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

“What is new is the quantification and being able to put a number on how much is the benefit for what is available,” Ioannidis told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide, according to the American Cancer Society. The group estimates about 465,000 women died of breast cancer worldwide in 2007 and 1.3 million new cases were diagnosed.

Declining death rates from the disease in developed countries have been attributed to early detection through mammography screening and to improved treatment.

One widespread treatment is the generic pill tamoxifen, which blocks estrogen from fuelling tumors. Another treatment that targets hormones is a class of drugs called aromatase inhibitors such as AstraZeneca Plc’s Arimidex.

Ioannidis and his team analyzed 128 clinical trials involving more than 26,000 women who received chemotherapy drugs which kill cancer cells directly rather than target hormones. The review included 148 comparisons of different treatments.

The findings are also a step toward finding consensus on the best dosage, timing and sequence or combination of different treatments, the researchers added.

(Reporting by Michael Kahn; Editing by Maggie Fox and Jon Loades-Carter)

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