A PARTICULAR drug used to treat chemotherapy has been found to give breast cancer patients a better quality of life without reducing their chances of survival, according to scientists.

Experts carried out a large-scale study to compare capecitabine with an alternative treatment known as CMF. Both were taken after another chemotherapy drug, named epirubicin.

The researchers – at the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh Centre and The Institute of Cancer Research in London – found that those patients taking capecitabine had fewer side effects and a better quality of life, and it was as effective at preventing cancer’s return as CMF.

Cancer Research UK, which revealed details of the study, said most patients experienced some side effects, regardless of the treatment they were given. However, those taking CMF, a chemotherapy combination treatment, were more likely to experience severe side effects such as early menopause, nausea, infection, thrombosis and anaemia.

Professor Judith Bliss, of the London-based institute, who led the management of the trial known as TACT2, said: “The TACT2 trial is the largest single study to look at the benefits of these different treatment approaches and schedules for chemotherapy to treat breast cancer.

“We’ve been able to show that capecitabine can be used as an alternative to CMF for part of the chemotherapy regime, giving patients a better quality of life without reducing their chances of survival.”

Almost 4400 adult patients from 129 UK centres were involved in the clinical trial after they had surgery.

During the study, patients were followed up after 12, 18 and 24 months, and then yearly for at least 10 years, to see if their cancer had returned and to monitor side effects.

More than 85 per cent of patients did not experience their cancer returning for at least five years. The researchers also tested whether having an accelerated course of epirubicin, given every two weeks instead of three, was more effective or better tolerated by patients, but they said the results showed it was not.

Professor David Cameron, clinical director of the Cancer Research UK Edinburgh centre and director of cancer services in NHS Lothian, said: “This new approach to chemotherapy may benefit a range of breast cancer patients, including younger women who want to preserve their fertility.”

Details of the trial, part-funded by Cancer Research UK, have been published in The Lancet Oncology.