A randomized multicenter phase III study was conducted to compare the sequential docetaxel followed by epirubicin/cyclophosphamide combination with that of FEC regimen as adjuvant chemotherapy in women with axillary node-positive early breast cancer. Seven hundred and fifty-six women with axillary lymph node-positive breast cancer were randomized to receive either 4 cycles of docetaxel (100 mg/m(2)) followed by 4 cycles of epirubicin (75 mg/m(2)) plus cyclophosphamide (700 mg/m(2)) (experimental arm) or 6 cycles of FEC (epirubicin 75 mg/m(2), cyclophosphamide 700 mg/m(2), and 5-fluorouracil 700 mg/m(2); control arm). All regimes were administered every 3 weeks. The primary end point was five-year disease-free survival (DFS). After a median follow-up period of 5 years, 233 (30.8%) relapses had occurred (108 and 125 in the experimental and control arms, respectively; P = 0.181). The five-year DFS was 72.6% (95% CI 63.8-81.3%) and 67.2% (95% CI 58.0-76.4%) for women randomized in the experimental and control arms, respectively (P = 0.041; log rank test). There was no difference in the overall survival between the two arms (83.8 and 81.4% in the experimental and control arms, respectively; P = 0.533). The experimental arm was associated with increased neutropenia requiring administration of granulocyte colony-stimulating factor in 90.5% of the patients as compared with 74.1% in the control arm (P = 0.0001). The sequential docetaxel followed by epirubicin/cyclophosphamide adjuvant chemotherapy regimen resulted in improved five-year DFS in women with axillary node-positive early breast cancer at the expense of increased but manageable myelotoxicity.