American Society of Clinical Oncology

View all recommendations from this society

Released October 29, 2013

Don’t use combination chemotherapy (multiple drugs) instead of chemotherapy with one drug when treating an individual for metastatic breast cancer unless the patient needs a rapid response to relieve tumor-related symptoms.

  • Although chemotherapy with multiple drugs, or combination chemotherapy, for metastatic breast cancer may slow tumor growth for a somewhat longer time than occurs when treating with a single agent, use of combination chemotherapy has not been shown to increase overall survival. In fact, the trade-offs of more frequent and severe side effects may have a net effect of worsening a patient’s quality of life, necessitating a reduction in the dose of chemotherapy.
  • Combination chemotherapy may be useful and worth the risk of more side effects in situations in which the cancer burden must be reduced quickly because it is causing significant symptoms or is life threatening. As a general rule, however, giving effective drugs one at a time lowers the risk of side effects, may improve a patient’s quality of life, and does not typically compromise overall survival.

The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) is a medical professional oncology society committed to conquering cancer through research, education, prevention and delivery of high-quality patient care. ASCO recognizes the importance of evidence-based cancer care and making wise choices in the diagnosis and management of patients with cancer. After careful consideration by experienced oncologists, ASCO highlights 10 categories of tests, procedures and/or treatments whose common use and clinical value are not supported by available evidence. These test and treatment options should not be administered unless the physician and patient have carefully considered if their use is appropriate in the individual case. As an example, when a patient is enrolled in a clinical trial, these tests, treatments and procedures may be part of the trial protocol and therefore deemed necessary for the patient’s participation in the trial.

These items are provided solely for informational purposes and are not intended to replace a medical professional’s independent judgment or as a substitute for consultation with a medical professional. Patients with any specific questions about the items on this list or their individual situation should consult their health care provider. New evidence may emerge following the development of these items. ASCO is not responsible for any injury or damage arising out of or related to any use of these items or to any errors or omissions.

How The List Was Created

1–5: The American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) has had a standing Cost of Cancer Care Task Force since 2007. The role of the Task Force is to assess the magnitude of rising costs of cancer care and develop strategies to address these challenges. In response to the 2010 New England Journal of Medicine article by Howard Brody, MD, “Medicine’s Ethical Responsibility for Health Care Reform – the Top Five List,” a subcommittee of the Cost of Cancer Care Task Force began work to identify common practices in oncology that were both common as well as lacking sufficient evidence for widespread use. Upon joining the Choosing Wiselycampaign, the members of the subcommittee conducted a literature search to ensure the proposed list of items were supported by available evidence in oncology; ultimately the proposed Top Five list was approved by the full Task Force. The initial draft list was then presented to the ASCO Clinical Practice Committee, a group composed of community-based oncologists as well as the presidents of the 48 state/regional oncology societies in the United States. Advocacy groups were also asked to weigh in to ensure the recommendations would achieve the dual purpose of increasing physician-patient communication and changing practice patterns. A plurality of more than 200 clinical oncologists reviewed, provided input and supported the list. The final Top Five list in oncology was then presented to, discussed and approved by the Executive Committee of the ASCO Board of Directors and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

6–10: To guide ASCO in developing this list, suggestions were elicited from current ASCO committee members (approximately 700 individuals); 115 suggestions were received. After removing duplicates, researching the literature and discussing practice patterns, the Value in Cancer Care Task Force culled the list to 11 items, which comprised an ASCO Top Five voting slate that was sent back to the membership of all standing committees. Approximately 140 oncologists from its leadership cadre voted, providing ASCO with an adequate sample size and perspective on what oncologists find to be of little value. The list was reviewed and finalized by the Value in Cancer Care Task Force and ultimately reviewed and approved by the ASCO Board of Directors and published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

ASCO’s disclosure and conflict of interest policies can be found at www.asco.org.

Sources

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Carrick S, Parker S, Thornton CE, Ghersi D, Simes J, Wilcken N. Single agent versus combination chemotherapy for metastatic breast cancer.Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2009 Apr 15;(2):CD003372.

National Comprehensive Cancer Network: NCCN clinical practice guidelines in oncology (NCCN Guidelines); breast cancer version: 1.2013.

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