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Sunday, 14 April, 2002, 23:11 GMT 00:11 UK
'Smart tablet' for breast cancer
Drug could extend life
A new pill for the treatment of advanced breast cancer has been launched in the UK.

The drug, capecitabine, can be used on its own in women who have already received intensive cancer treatment, or in combination with another cancer drug called docetaxel.

The drug will undoubtedly help extend the lives of some patients

Sarah Turner
Cancer Research UK
Taken together the two drugs have been shown to increase survival time for women whose cancer has spread to other parts of their body.

Capecitabine has been dubbed a "smart tablet" because of the way it works.

The drug is converted into a cancer-killing agent when it comes into contact with an enzyme that is found at low levels in healthy cells, but in higher levels in cancer cells.

Docetaxel acts to boost levels of the enzyme still further, thus boosting the anti-cancer impact of capecitabine.

Common disease

In the UK, breast cancer accounts for one in four of all female cancers and is the leading cause of death in women aged 35-54.

More than 1,000 women die of the disease every month and over 35,000 new cases of breast cancer are diagnosed in the UK each year.

Dr Alison Jones, of the Royal Free Hospital, London, said: "The drug represents an important weapon in our fight against breast cancer. It's a treatment that targets and attacks the cancer directly and can be taken as a pill."

Sarah Turner, Information Nurse Manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "We are always pleased to see new clinically proven drugs which extend the range of treatments available to patients.

"Some early trials for capecitabine showed positive results and one of the drug's major benefits is that it is taken orally, which is less invasive than many chemotherapy treatments.

No 'miracle cure'

"However, while the drug will undoubtedly help extend the lives of some patients, it should be made clear that capecitabine is not a miracle cure.

"It also still needs to be submitted to, and approved by, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence before it will be widely available on the NHS - so availability for some patients may be a problem."

Delyth Morgan, chief executive of Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said the drug was welcome news for some women with breast cancer.

She said: "Being able to take a tablet instead of having chemotherapy in hospital may be much more convenient and in some cases have an impact on the quality of life for women who could benefit."

Capecitabine is marketed in the UK under the brand name Xeloda by the pharmaceutical firm Roche.

See also:

09 Apr 02 | Health
Breast cancer risk for large mums
20 Mar 02 | Health
Tamoxifen prevents breast cancer
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