Sequencing of anthracyclines and taxanes in neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy for early breast cancer

Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2019 Feb 18;2(2):CD012873. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD012873.pub2.


Background: Anthracyclines and taxanes are chemotherapeutic agents widely used in a sequential regimen in the adjuvant and neoadjuvant treatment of early breast cancer to reduce the risk of cancer recurrence. Standard practice is to administer anthracycline-based chemotherapy followed by a taxane. Anthracyclines tend to be administered first as they were established before taxanes for treatment of early breast cancer.

Objectives: To assess whether the sequence in which anthracyclines and taxanes are administered affects outcomes for people with early breast cancer receiving adjuvant or neoadjuvant therapy.

Search methods: We searched Cochrane Breast Cancer's Specialised Register, CENTRAL, MEDLINE, Embase, the World Health Organization's International Clinical Trials Registry Platform (WHO ICTRP) and on 1 February 2018.

Selection criteria: Randomised controlled trials comparing administering a taxane prior to an anthracycline with taxane following anthracycline to people with early breast cancer receiving chemotherapy. The studies needed to have reported on at least one of our outcomes of interest, which included overall survival, disease-free survival, pathological response, treatment adherence, toxicity and quality of life.

Data collection and analysis: Two review authors independently extracted data, assessed risk of bias and quality of the evidence. The primary outcome measure was overall survival. Secondary outcomes included disease-free survival, pathological response (in the neoadjuvant setting only), adverse events, treatment adherence and quality of life. For time-to-event outcomes of overall survival and disease-free survival, we derived hazard ratios (HRs) with 95% confidence intervals (CI) where possible. For dichotomous outcomes of pathological complete response, treatment adherence and adverse events, we reported the treatment effect as a risk ratio (RR) with 95% CI where possible. We used GRADE to assess the certainty of the evidence separately for the neoadjuvant and adjuvant settings.

Main results: There were 1415 participants in five neoadjuvant studies and 280 participants in four adjuvant studies involving five treatment comparisons. Four of the five neoadjuvant studies collected data for the primary outcome (overall survival) and two studies had data available; one of the four adjuvant studies collected overall survival data.The neoadjuvant studies suggested that the administration of taxanes first probably resulted in little to no difference in overall survival (HR 0.80, 95% CI 0.60 to 1.08; 947 participants; 2 studies; moderate-certainty evidence) and disease-free survival (HR 0.84, 95% CI 0.65 to 1.09; 828 participants; 1 study; moderate-certainty evidence). Administration of taxanes first also resulted in little to no difference in pathological complete response (absence of cancer in the breast and axilla: RR 1.15, 95% CI 0.96 to 1.38; 1280 participants; 4 studies; high-certainty evidence). However, there appeared to be a trend in favour of taxanes first. Studies reported treatment adherence using a range of measures. Administration of taxanes first probably did not increase the likelihood of requiring dose reductions compared to administration of anthracyclines first (RR 0.81, 95% CI 0.59 to 1.11; 280 participants; 1 study; moderate-certainty evidence). There was probably little to no difference in the risk of grade 3/4 neutropenia (RR 1.25, 95% CI 0.86 to 1.82; 280 participants, 1 study; moderate-certainty evidence) or grade 3/4 neurotoxicity (RR 0.95, 95% CI 0.55 to 1.65; 1108 participants; 2 studies; low-certainty evidence) when taxanes were given first. There were no data on quality of life.Only one adjuvant study collected data on overall survival and disease-free survival but did not report data. Administration of taxanes first reduced the risk of grade 3/4 neutropenia (RR 0.62, 95% CI 0.40 to 0.97; 279 participants; 4 studies, 5 treatment comparisons; high-certainty evidence) and appeared to result in little to no difference in grade 3/4 neurotoxicity (RR 0.78, 95% CI 0.25 to 2.46; 162 participants; 3 studies; low-certainty evidence). There was probably little to no difference in the proportions experiencing dose delays when taxanes are given first compared to anthracyclines given first (RR 0.76, 95% CI 0.52 to 1.12; 238 participants; 3 studies, 4 treatment comparisons; moderate-certainty evidence). One study reported on quality of life and indicated that scores (using the Functional Assessment of Cancer Therapy - Breast Cancer (FACT-B) validated questionnaire) were similar in both groups though did not provide numerical data.

Authors' conclusions: In the neoadjuvant setting, there is high- to low-certainty evidence of equivalent outcomes for the sequence in which taxanes are delivered. In the adjuvant setting, none of the studies reported on overall survival or disease-free survival. In most institutions, standard practice would be to deliver anthracycline followed by taxane, and currently available data do not support a change in this practice. We wait for the full-text publication of a relevant neoadjuvant study for women with HER2-negative breast cancer for inclusion in an update of this review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Anthracyclines / administration & dosage*
  • Anthracyclines / adverse effects
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / administration & dosage*
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic / adverse effects
  • Antineoplastic Agents / administration & dosage*
  • Antineoplastic Agents / adverse effects
  • Breast Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Breast Neoplasms / mortality
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Cyclophosphamide / administration & dosage
  • Cyclophosphamide / adverse effects
  • Disease-Free Survival
  • Docetaxel / administration & dosage
  • Docetaxel / adverse effects
  • Doxorubicin / administration & dosage
  • Doxorubicin / adverse effects
  • Drug Administration Schedule
  • Epirubicin / administration & dosage
  • Epirubicin / adverse effects
  • Female
  • Fluorouracil / administration & dosage
  • Fluorouracil / adverse effects
  • Humans
  • Neoadjuvant Therapy
  • Nervous System / drug effects
  • Neutropenia / chemically induced
  • Paclitaxel / administration & dosage
  • Paclitaxel / adverse effects
  • Quality of Life
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Taxoids / administration & dosage*
  • Taxoids / adverse effects


  • Anthracyclines
  • Antibiotics, Antineoplastic
  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Taxoids
  • Docetaxel
  • Epirubicin
  • Doxorubicin
  • Cyclophosphamide
  • Paclitaxel
  • Fluorouracil