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According to a study published in the journal Cancer, the use of the chemotherapy drug paclitaxel has resulted in longer survival among women with metastatic breast cancer.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers diagnosed in women. It is estimated that approximately 250,000 women are diagnosed annually in the US, and 40,000 deaths are attributed to breast cancer each year. Metastatic breast cancer refers to cancer that has spread to distant sites in the body, often invading vital organs.

Standard treatment for metastatic breast cancer typically includes chemotherapy. Researchers continue to evaluate novel agents and therapeutic approaches for the treatment of metastatic breast cancer in order to improve long-term outcomes and quality of life.

In order to determine whether survival with metastatic breast cancer has changed over time and if newer chemotherapy drugs appear to be responsible for any observed changes, researchers in Italy evaluated data from six clinical trials of metastatic breast cancer. Women enrolled in these trials were diagnosed with breast cancer between 1983 and 2001.

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Median survival increased over this time period as follows: 18 months during the period 1983-1986 to 24 months during the time period 1998-2001. The factor that seemed to distinguish the earlier and the later time periods was the addition of paclitaxel to chemotherapy regimens starting in 1995. Analysis of the survival trends suggest that survival improved after the addition of paclitaxel.

The researchers conclude that modern chemotherapy regimens have resulted in longer survival for women with metastatic breast cancer. Because the observed improvements took place within the well-controlled environments of clinical trials, the researchers note that survival should also be evaluated among patients in routine clinical practice.

Reference: Gennari A, Conte PF, Rosso R et al. Survival of metastatic breast carcinoma patients over a 20-year period. A retrospective analysis based on individual patient data from six consecutive studies. Cancer. Published online September 7, 2005.

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