Intended for healthcare professionals

Research Article

Adjuvant chemotherapy for breast cancer: side effects and quality of life.

Br Med J 1980; 281 doi: (Published 13 December 1980) Cite this as: Br Med J 1980;281:1594
  1. B V Palmer,
  2. G A Walsh,
  3. J A McKinna,
  4. W P Greening


    In a trial of postoperative adjuvant chemotherapy women with primary breast cancer and spread to one or more axillary nodes were randomised to receive a six-month course of either the single agent chlorambucil or the five-drug combination of chlorambucil, methotrexate, fluorouracil, vincristine, and adriamycin. On completing the treatment 47 patients were asked to fill in questionnaires at home on the side effects of treatment and its influence on the quality of their life. Side effects including nausea, vomiting, malaise, and alopecia had been severe enough to interfere with their lifestyle in 9 (42%) of the patients who had received the single agent and 19 (79%) of those who had received multiple-drug treatment. Various other side effects were reported by a few patients. Seven (29%) of the patients who had received the multiple-drug schedule voluntarily added that the treatment had been "unbearable" or "could never be gone though again." The proportion of patients who had experienced severe side effects while receiving the treatment was considerable; hence such adjuvant chemotherapy is justifiable only if it will substantially improve a patient's prognosis.