A recent study has shown that older women benefit just as much from standard chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer as younger women do.
The study also found that capecitabine, an oral pill which when taken converts into a chemotherapy drug in the body, does not provide as good results as standard chemotherapy treatment with multiple drugs.
Older women who have breast cancer are usually not included in significant numbers in clinical trials. There is also a dearth of information on the outcomes when drugs are used in combination with other treatment, such as radiation or surgery; such treatment is referred to as adjuvant chemotherapy.
The study included women who had breast cancer, who were 65 years old or older, and who had no problems with their major organ systems. About 60 percent of the women were in their 70s.
Those women were randomly assigned to receive either standard chemotherapy using two or three medications, or to therapy using the oral medication capecitabine.
When early results showed that therapy with the oral medication capecitabine was not as effective as standard chemotherapy, the study was halted so that all women could receive the more effective therapy.
After about two and one half years, researchers followed up to see if the patients had any relapses of the cancer; they also looked at survival rates.
Women who had been treated with capecitabine had relapse and death rates almost twice as high as women who received standard chemotherapy treatment.
Some of the best news to emerge from this study is that older women did just as well as younger women. This means that the approach for treating healthy older patients need not be any different from the approach for treating healthy younger patients.
If you are an older woman with breast cancer who is generally otherwise healthy, talk with your doctor about receiving standard chemotherapy treatment.
When an older patient is frail or otherwise not in good health, then additional considerations will have to be given as to the amount and types of chemotherapy medications that should be given in order to minimize side effects which have the potential to be serious.
For example, chemotherapy often produces nausea and vomiting, as well as depressing the appetite, which could considerably impact the nutritional status of an already ill patient.
Chemotherapy and radiation therapy lower the body’s resistance to disease, which increases vulnerability to infection. Chemotherapy and radiation can also cause anemia, which can have serious consequences as well.