If there is no overall survival benefit in metastatic breast cancer: Does it imply lack of efficacy? Taxanes as an example

Birgit E. P. J. Vriens, Dorien J. A. Lobbezoo, Joep P. J. de Hoon, Jurgen Veeck, Adri C. Voogd, Vivianne C. G. Tjan-Heijnen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

8 Citations (Web of Science)


In recent years, new drugs have shown activity in metastatic breast cancer, but not always resulting in an overall survival benefit. This has led to discussions if such drugs, mainly expensive drugs, should be reimbursed especially when also not leading to improvement in quality of life. For that reason, we decided to systematically review taxane-based chemotherapy studies in early and metastatic breast cancer, to assess which factors may have caused the differential outcome. Taxanes did not improve survival in metastatic breast cancer trials, whereas they did so in early breast cancer trials. We questioned if the differential outcome of taxanes in metastatic breast cancer might be caused by the chosen comparator and study design. We noticed that in the majority of metastatic breast cancer studies taxanes were used as a substitute for other active cytotoxic drugs, mainly cyclophosphamide, whereas in early breast cancer studies taxanes were generally delivered in addition to a standard regimen. We conclude from our analyses that use of taxanes instead of other active drugs explains the lack of overall survival benefit in metastatic breast cancer trials. Further, our results suggest that cyclophosphamide is an important drug in the treatment of breast cancer, being as effective as optimally dosed taxanes and anthracyclines. By studying the different study designs and comparators in both settings, we were able to demonstrate their impact on efficacy endpoints. We conclude, therefore, that re-assessment of studies of drugs both assessed in metastatic and early breast cancer provides a new tool for improved understanding.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)189-198
JournalCancer Treatment Reviews
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2013


  • Breast cancer
  • Chemotherapy
  • Taxanes
  • Docetaxel
  • Paclitaxel

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