Women can have dramatic differences in response to chemotherapy drugs, according to the report in the October 21st issue of The Lancet.
"Some patients can experience severe toxicity at doses that are perfectly safe in others," explain Dr. Jonas Bergh from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, Sweden and colleagues.
In a new study, the researchers individually tailored a chemotherapy regimen including three drugs (abbreviated FEC) for patients with early, high-risk cancer, depending on their ability to tolerate the drugs. The women were compared with patients who received standard high-dose chemotherapy plus blood cell transplant.
After 3 years, 72% of the women in the FEC group remained free of recurrence, compared with 63% of women in the other treatment group.
Survival was also better in the tailored-chemotherapy group. After just over 3 years, 60 women in this group had died, compared with 82 women in the high-dose chemotherapy/transplant group, the report indicates. The study included 525 women.
"Our data clearly indicates the potential of customizing therapy on an individual level," Bergh noted in a statement issued by the journal.
Women in the individually-adjusted treatment group were able to receive higher doses of two of the three anticancer drugs without experiencing more side effects, the researchers note. However, these women did face a higher risk of developing leukemia or blood disorders as a result of the treatment.
Tailored chemotherapy, with its improved recurrence and survival rates, deserves further investigation, with the goal of reducing the rates of leukemia and other blood diseases after treatment, the authors conclude.
"The tailored approach must be further explored in oncology (cancer medicine)," Bergh said. "We may have underestimated the importance of the individual tolerance of chemotherapy."