Side effects of breast cancer treatment offer research direction

June 27, 2001

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- In a sweeping review of 25 years of research into the side effects of adjuvant treatment for breast cancer (chemotherapy and/or radiation following surgery), an Ohio State University cancer specialist concludes that adjuvant therapy reduces mortality, most of the side effects are reversible, and there is little or no increase in long-term cardiac toxicity and second cancers using current regimens.

The conclusions are published in the June 28 edition of The New England Journal of Medicine.

Dr. Charles L. Shapiro, director of breast medical oncology at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute, conducted the review. "Today a majority of women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer will be breast cancer survivors," says Shapiro. "At the same time, we have lowered the threshold for treating these women with adjuvant therapy such that it is becoming increasingly important to understand the short- and long-term side effects of the treatments."

Among the findings: "It used to be that we didn't have the luxury of considering long term side effects," says Shapiro. "But now, more women are surviving, and survivorship issues are of major importance."

Shapiro and co-author Dr. Abram Recht of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston point out that the ideal adjuvant treatment regimen has yet to be defined, and researchers need to work on defining predictive factors in choosing the right regimen for a particular patient.

He also says that the newer targeted drugs, such as Herceptin, should not be used for early stage breast cancer outside of a clinical trial setting. Trials of Herceptin in combination with adjuvant chemotherapy are ongoing to determine the effectiveness of the combination and, importantly, the long-term side effects.
Contact: Michelle Gailiun, Medical Center Communications, 614-293-3737, or

Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center

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