Chemotherapy :: Understanding Chemotherapy for breast cancer

Chemotherapy for breast cancer was first introduced 30 years ago, and doctors have been refining the treatment ever since. Countless studies have asked which drugs work best and when they should be given, but many women still have not realized the full benefits of chemotherapy.

Basically, chemotherapy is the use of chemical substances to treat disease. In its modern-day use, it refers primarily to cytotoxic drugs used to treat cancer. In its non-oncological use, the term may also refer to antibiotics (antibacterial chemotherapy). In that sense, the first modern chemotherapeutic agent was Paul Ehrlich’s arsphenamine, an arsenic compound discovered in 1909 and used to treat syphilis. This was later followed by sulfonamides discovered by Domagk and penicillin G discovered by Alexander Fleming.

Other uses of cytostatic chemotherapy agents (including the ones mentioned below) are the treatment of autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis and rheumatoid arthritis, the treatment of some chronic viral infections such as Hepatitis, and the suppression of transplant rejections.

Today’s issue of the New England Journal of Medicine has published a study comparing breast cancer chemotherapy treatments. Doctors looked at the effectiveness of a standard chemotherapy drug combination known as CMF (a cocktail of clophosphamide, methotrexate and fluorouracil) and compared it to taking CMF plus the drug epirubicin, known as an anthracycline.

Patients in the epirubicin-CMF group lived longer, cancer-free lives than the patients who received the standard CMF treatment, researchers said.

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