Adjuvant chemotherapy is an approach to fighting cancer


Adjuvant chemotherapy is therapy that is given in addition to the primary or initial therapy to maximize its effectiveness. The surgeries and complex treatment regimens used in cancer therapy have led the term to be used mainly to describe adjuvant cancer treatments. An example of such adjuvant therapy is the additional treatment usually given after surgery where all detectable disease has been removed, but where there remains a statistical risk of relapse due to the presence of undetected disease. If known disease is left behind following surgery, then further treatment is not technically adjuvant. An adjuvant agent modifies the effect of another agent, so adjuvant therapy modifies other therapy.

The term "adjuvant therapy," derived from the Latin term adjuvāre, meaning "to help," was first coined by Paul Carbone and his team at the National Cancer Institute in 1963. In 1968, the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) published its B-01 trial results for the first randomized trial that evaluated the effect of an adjuvant alkylating agent in breast cancer. The results indicated that the adjuvant therapy given after the initial radical mastectomy "significantly decreased recurrence rate in pre-menopausal women with four or more positive axillary lymph nodes." In 1976, shortly after Bonadonna's landmark trial, Bernard Fisher at the University of Pittsburgh initiated a similar randomized trial that compared the survival of breast cancer patients treated with radiation after the initial mastectomy to those who only received the surgery. His results, published in 1985, indicated increased disease-free survival for the former group.

Neoadjuvant therapy, in contrast to adjuvant therapy, is given before the main treatment. For example, systemic therapy for breast cancer that is given before removal of a breast is considered neoadjuvant chemotherapy. The most common reason for neoadjuvant therapy for cancer is to reduce the size of the tumor so as to facilitate more effective surgery. In the context of breast cancer, neoadjuvant chemotherapy administered before surgery can improve survival in patients. If no active cancer cells are present in a tissue extracted from the tumor site after neoadjuvant therapy, physicians classify a case as “pathologic complete response” or "pCR." While response to therapy has been demonstrated to be a strong predictor of outcome, the medical community has still not reached a consensus in regard to the definition of pCR across various breast cancer subtypes.

Hyperthermia therapy or heat therapy is also a kind of adjuvant therapy that is given along with radiation or chemotherapy to boost the effects of these conventional treatments. Heating the tumor by Radio Frequency (RF) or Microwave energy increases oxygen content in the tumor site, which results in increased response during radiation or chemotherapy. For example, Hyperthermia is added twice a week to radiation therapy for the full course of the treatment in many cancer centers, and the challenge is to increase its use around the world. A motif found throughout the history of cancer therapy is the tendency for overtreatment. From the time of its inception, the use of adjuvant therapy has received scrutiny for its adverse effects on the quality of life of cancer patients. For example, because side effects of adjuvant chemotherapy can range from nausea to loss of fertility, physicians regularly practice caution when prescribing chemotherapy.

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Journal of Clinical Oncology and Cancer Research,

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