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Oncology (Williston Park). 1998 Mar;12(3 Suppl 4):27-31.

Quality of life issues in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer.

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  • 1Division of Oncology, Stanford University Medical Center, Palo Alto, California, USA.


The treatment of metastatic breast cancer involves the sequential selection and delivery of hormonal therapies and cytotoxic chemotherapies. The available therapies for metastatic breast cancer are rarely curative, although high rates of response and modest prolongation of survival may be achieved in association with varying degrees of treatment-related toxicity. Therefore, the selection of appropriate therapy requires a reasoned consideration of the likelihood of benefit from therapy balanced with the impact of therapy on the patient's quality of life. Several instruments have been developed to measure quality of life in cancer patients, but none has been universally accepted, and they require time and resources to administer. Few randomized clinical trials have incorporated quality of life assessments. Thus, the clinician must balance antitumor activity, performance status, and the usual toxicity measures, (e.g., nausea, myelosuppression, asthenia) as surrogates for quality of life associated with each specific therapy. Studies have confirmed the clinical impression that antitumor activity of treatment generally correlates with quality of life outcome. The hormonal therapies have the quality of life advantages of limited and non-threatening acute toxicity, rare chronic toxicity, need for infrequent visits to health care providers, oral administration, and, in appropriately selected patients, response and duration of response rates equivalent to those of the cytotoxic agents. A number of cytotoxic agents have activity in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer. Although the active single agents differ substantially in their toxicity profiles, the dose-limiting toxicity is usually myelosuppression. Recently, several agents with substantial activity against breast cancer have become available, including the taxanes (paclitaxel and docetaxel), vinorelbine, and gemcitabine. Oral formulations of vinorelbine are being studied that may provide the additional advantages of not requiring intravenous access, requiring fewer visits to the health care professional, and providing patients with a greater sense of control of their treatment.

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