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Oncologist. 2006 Jun;11(6):574-89.

Primary systemic therapy of breast cancer.

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St. Luke's-Roosevelt Medical Center, Beth Israel Medical Center, Continuum Cancer Center of New York, New York, New York 10019, USA.


Primary systemic therapy (PST) or neoadjuvant therapy is used in nonmetastatic breast cancer to treat systemic disease earlier, decrease tumor bulk ideally to a complete pathological response (pCR), and reduce the extent of surgery. The multitude of clinical trials using PST in breast cancer patients has not proven the fundamental hypotheses of improved overall survival and disease-free survival that drove the investigation of PST. The other potential advantages of PST, which include increasing the rate of breast-conserving surgery and predicting outcome to a particular chemotherapy regimen, are also not conclusively established. We examined the published literature on PST for breast cancer and predominantly focused our review on data from large, randomized clinical trials comparing primary systemic chemotherapy with adjuvant chemotherapy, different primary systemic chemotherapy regimens, primary systemic chemotherapy with hormonal therapy, and different preoperative hormonal therapies. Although the optimal neoadjuvant chemotherapy regimen has not been established, a combination of four cycles of an anthracycline followed by four cycles of a taxane appears to produce the highest pCR rate (22%-31%). In patients with HER-2-positive breast cancer, concurrent use of neoadjuvant trastuzumab with an anthracycline-taxane combination has produced provocative results that require further confirmatory studies. Preoperative hormonal therapy is associated with low pCR rates and should be reserved for patients who are poor candidates for systemic chemotherapy. The optimal management of patients with residual disease after the administration of maximum neoadjuvant therapy remains to be defined. The surgical approach, including the role of sentinel node biopsy and delivery of radiation therapy after PST in breast cancer patients, is evolving. Ongoing clinical trials will help identify the subset of patients who would most benefit from the use of PST, establish the most effective PST regimen, and determine the optimal multidisciplinary approach in the management of breast cancer.

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