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Current status of paclitaxel in the treatment of breast cancer


Paclitaxel is a highly active single agent as therapy for previously untreated as well as doxorubicin-refractory metastatic breast cancer, with associated response rates of 62% and 20–48%, respectively. Complete responses with paclitaxel occur chiefly in breast cancer patients whose metastatic disease has not been previously treated with chemotherapy. Early data suggest a possible dose-response relationship for paclitaxel in metastatic breast cancer, but the optimal dose has not yet been defined. The optimal duration of infusional paclitaxel treatment is also not yet known. A study of 96-hour infusional paclitaxel in the treatment of doxorubicin- or mitoxantrone- refractory metastatic breast cancer patients has demonstrated a 48% response rate suggesting that prolonged exposures to paclitaxel may offer a therapeutic advantage. Randomized trials of 3- vs 96-hour paclitaxel are ongoing or planned. The relative efficacy of paclitaxel versus standard chemotherapy as front-line or salvage therapy for metastatic breast cancer is currently under study. In addition, two randomized trials are under way in node positive breast cancer patients to study whether treatment with paclitaxel following standard or high dose doxorubicin and cyclophosphamide adjuvant therapy results in improved patient benefit.

Combining paclitaxel with other active agents in the treatment of metastatic breast cancer is an area of active investigation. Combined paclitaxel and doxorubicin, administered concurrently or sequentially, is associated with modest complete response rates in metastatic breast cancer patients. Sequential paclitaxel→doxorubicin administration is associated with more mucositis than is doxorubicin→paclitaxel when paclitaxel is administered over 24 hours. High doses of cyclophosphamide can be combined with 24- or 72-hour infusional paclitaxel, and phase II studies of this combination are warranted. Early data suggest that administering biweekly paclitaxel and cisplatin to previously untreated metastatic breast cancer patients is associated with high response rates, and confirmatory studies of this combination and schedule are planned. Preclinical data suggest that cell cycle considerations may be important in combining doxorubicin and possibly other agents with paclitaxel.

Paclitaxel is an excellent substrate for P-glycoprotein, the protein product of the multidrug resistance-1 (mdr-1) gene, and phase I trials are under way combining paclitaxel with several known blockers of Pgp function. Finally, pilot studies are under way to determine whether the radiation sensitizing effects of paclitaxel can be exploited as part of radiation therapy for patients with locally advanced breast cancer.

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Correspondence to Joyce A. O'Shaughnessy.

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O'Shaughnessy, J.A., Cowan, K.H. Current status of paclitaxel in the treatment of breast cancer. Breast Cancer Res Tr 33, 27–37 (1995).

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Key words

  • paclitaxel
  • Taxol®
  • combinations
  • treatment
  • drug resistance