Purpose: In this phase II study, the efficacy and tolerability of gemcitabine were studied in 44 patients with locally advanced or metastatic breast cancer.
Patients and methods: Of 40 patients assessable for response, 14 were chemotherapy-naive, seven had received adjuvant chemotherapy, and 19 had received one prior chemotherapy regimen for metastatic disease. Gemcitabine was administered as a 30-minute intravenous infusion once a week for 3 weeks followed by a 1-week rest every 4 weeks. The mean number of completed cycles administered was 2.7 and the mean dosage delivered was 725 mg/m2 per injection. Eighty-one percent of doses were delivered as scheduled.
Results: There were three complete responses and seven partial responses, for an overall response rate of 25.0% (95% confidence interval [CI], 12.7% to 41.2%). Four patients were not assessable for efficacy (one had insufficient therapy, two had no bidimensionally measurable disease, and one had neither). All responses were independently validated by an external oncology review board. Responses were observed early in treatment, with a median time to response of 1.9 months. The median survival duration for all 40 assessable patients was 11.5 months. Hematologic toxicity was generally mild, with World Health Organization (WHO) grade 3 and 4 leukopenia occurring in 6.8% and 2.3% of patients and neutropenia in 23.3% and 7.0%, of patients, respectively. The only other grade 4 toxicities were infection and nausea and vomiting in one patient each. One patient was withdrawn due to shortness of breath, possibly drug-related. Flu-like symptoms, which were mild, transient, and treatable with acetominophen, were reported in 6.8% of patients. Only one patient developed alopecia of severity greater than WHO grade 2.
Conclusion: In view of the single-agent activity seen in advanced breast cancer, modest toxicity profile, and novel mechanism of action, gemcitabine deserves evaluation in breast cancer and is an ideal candidate for combination therapy.