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The role of anthracyclines in second-line therapy of ovarian cancer
  1. J. B. Vermorken*
  1. * Department of Medical Oncology, University Hospital Antwerp, Edegem, Belgium
  1. Address correspondence and reprint requests to: J. B. Vermorken, 150 Course Albert Thomas, F-69372 Lyon Cedex 08, France.


Anthracyclines (ANTs) have been in clinical practice since the 1960s and represent one of the most commonly used classes of anticancer drugs. In the 1990s, meta-analyses showed a favorable impact of doxorubicin (DOX/A) on the survival of patients with advanced ovarian cancer, when it was combined with cyclophosphamide and cisplatin (CAP) and compared to CP alone. With the acceptance of paclitaxel-carboplatin (TCb) as the new reference arm for first-line treatment, testing the addition of ANTs to TCb seems a logic next step. Trials presently testing this, make use of either epirubicin (EPI) or pegylated liposomal doxorubicin (PLD: Doxil®/Caelyx®). These are the two most favorable ANTs, based on data obtained with various ANTs in ovarian cancer failing platinum-based chemotherapy. EPI has not been evaluated in direct comparison with other antineoplastic agents. PLD has been compared with both paclitaxel and topotecan. No difference in efficacy parameters could be observed, but the toxicity profile of PLD scored favorably against those of the comparator in both trials, despite the fact that palmar-plantar erythrodysesthesia can be troublesome, and sometimes lead to treatment discontinuation. Data from four randomized trials evaluating the role of ANT combinations in patients with relapsed ovarian cancer suggest that the addition of EPI or DOX to paclitaxel does not lead to better outcomes in patients with platinum-refractory or resistant disease. In platinum-sensitive disease, any benefit of EPI-platinum or DOX-platinum combinations over platinum alone is uncertain. There are no randomized trials with PLD combinations in the second-line setting. It is concluded that both EPI and PLD can be recommended as a reasonable single-agent treatment option for relapsed patients, with a preference for PLD taking into account its more favorable toxicity profile.

  • ovarian cancer
  • anthracyclines
  • recurrent disease

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