Chemo after breast cancer surgery cuts deaths by one-third

In collaboration with the Press Association

Women with breast cancer who were given chemotherapy following surgery fared better than women who were given no chemotherapy, according to a large University of Oxford study funded by Cancer Research UK and others.

The study looked at 123 trials involving around 100,000 women with breast cancer over the last 40 years and revealed that mortality rates were one-third lower among women given both treatments.

The findings - also supported by the Medical Research Council and the British Heart Foundation - have been published in the Lancet journal.

The researchers studied the trials of various older chemotherapy regimens, and found that standard 1980s chemotherapy reduced breast cancer deaths by around one-quarter. More modern treatments further reduced this risk.

The reduction appeared to apply to all women, irrespective of age, how big the tumour was, whether it had started to spread to the local lymph nodes and of whether or not it was oestrogen-receptor (ER)-positive.

The researchers also found that chemotherapy plus hormone therapy was even more effective than hormone therapy alone.

Study leader Sir Richard Peto said: "Most breast cancers are ER-positive, and for ER-positive disease that appears to have been completely removed by surgery the 10-year risk of recurrence and death from breast cancer can be reduced by at least half by giving a few months of modern chemotherapy plus 5 years of endocrine [hormone] therapy."

Kate Law, director of clinical and population research at Cancer Research UK, said: "This large and comprehensive analysis confirms that more widespread use of chemotherapy to treat breast cancer after surgery has had a major impact on saving lives.

"In the UK we've seen a dramatic drop in death rates for breast cancer since the 1980s and this research shows us just how improved treatments have contributed to this success.

"Modern day treatments are not without side effects but we hope that current research will make treatment more tailored to individual cancers leading to further improvements in the future."

Copyright Press Association 2011


  • Early Breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group (EBCTCG). Comparisons between different polychemotherapy regimens for early breast cancer: meta-analyses of long-term outcome among 100 000 women in 123 randomised trials. Lancet DOI:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61625-5