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Br J Cancer. 1998 Dec;78(11):1488-94.

Do patients with advanced breast cancer benefit from chemotherapy?

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  • 1ICRF Psychosocial Oncology Group, UMDS, London, UK.


This study aimed to assess the proportion of patients with advanced breast cancer who report benefit from first-line palliative chemotherapy using a simple global measure of wellbeing and to identify factors predicting benefit. A consecutive series of women with advanced breast cancer undergoing first-line palliative chemotherapy was evaluated. The main outcome measure was patient report of overall wellbeing assessed at post-treatment interview. Physical, psychological and functional status were assessed using the Rotterdam Symptom Checklist (RSCL) on three occasions (pretreatment, at the start of the third cycle and post treatment). It was planned that treatment would be discontinued after six cycles (i.e. 18-24 weeks). One hundred and sixty patients started treatment, of whom 155 were assessable for quality of life. After treatment, 41 (26%) patients reported they felt better, 29 (19%) felt the same and 34 (22%) felt worse than they did before treatment. The other 51 (33%) patients either died or stopped attending the hospital before the post-treatment interview and were assigned as treatment 'failures'. Patients who reported feeling better after treatment had improvements in psychological distress (P < 0.0001), pain (P = 0.01), lack of energy (P = 0.02) and tiredness (P = 0.02), as well as improvement in functional status (P = 0.07). Feeling better was also correlated with disease response (P = 0.03). Feeling worse after treatment or treatment 'failure' was predicted by the pretreatment presence of a dry mouth (P = 0.003) and high levels of psychological distress (P = 0.03). Pretreatment lack of energy (P = 0.01), dry mouth (P = 0.02), presence of liver metastases (P = 0.03) and breathlessness (P = 0.03) predicted treatment 'failures'. The results of this study suggest that first-line palliative chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer confers benefit on a substantial proportion of patients, with about one-quarter feeling better after treatment and nearly a half feeling better or the same some 4-6 months after the start of treatment. Factors identified in this study may assist clinicians in deciding which patients should not be offered treatment, because of high risk of feeling worse or treatment 'failure'. This work now needs to be validated on a further cohort of women receiving chemotherapy for advanced breast cancer.

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