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Breast Cancer Study Results on High-Dose Chemotherapy Falsified (dateline February 9, 2000)

A breast cancer researcher from South Africa has admitted to falsifying the results of a study that showed high-dose chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplants benefits patients with advanced breast cancer . A team of American scientists became suspicious about the results of Dr. Werner Bezwoda’s study after four similar studies showed no benefit. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), Dr. Bezwoda lied about the drugs he gave patients undergoing chemotherapy in the study. Previous studies on high-dose chemotherapy have revealed that the therapy may have some effect on advanced breast cancer patients.

In a public statement issued on January 30, Dr. Bezwoda wrote, "I hereby acknowledge that I have committed a serious breach of scientific honesty and integrity. I acknowledge my error and take sole responsibility. This was done out of a foolish desire to make the presentation more acceptable to an audience." Dr. Bezwoda’s study was presented at the annual meeting of the ASCO last May and showed that women with advanced breast cancer were less likely to experience a recurrence   (return) of breast cancer if they received high-dose chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplants than if they received standard dose chemotherapy. Dr. John Durant, MD, the ASCO’s executive vice president, said that this was the first time in the ASCO’s 35-year history that the organization has had to discredit a peer-reviewed study.

In general, the ASCO has rigorous scientific standards but uses the honors system when researchers submit summaries of their work. Each study must also be reviewed and approved by human research monitors at the institution where the research was conducted. The ASCO plans to review its policies for screening trial results. Apparently, Dr. Bezwoda did not seek approval from the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg where he conducted the study. Dr. Bezwoda has since been suspended by the University pending a review of all of his previous research.

While the ASCO calls this latest study on high-dose chemotherapy "worthless," the treatment is highly controversial among the scientific community. Some researchers believe high-dose chemotherapy followed by bone marrow transplants may be the only viable option for women with advanced (metastatic) breast cancer. For instance, Dr. David Rizzieri, MD and his colleagues at Duke University Medical Center believe that aggressively treating early metastases (spreads) of breast cancer, when the disease is minimal, results in significantly better outcomes for patients. However, other researchers believe high-dose chemotherapy is not beneficial and causes serious side effects in patients. Dr. Durant of the ASCO told the New York Times that further research is needed before researchers can be sure whether or not high-dose chemotherapy is helpful in treating breast cancer.

A variety of other treatment options are currently used on women with advanced breast cancer. Depending on the location and extent the cancer has spread, radiation therapy , standard dose chemotherapy, or other drug therapies (such as tamoxifen, Taxol, Aromasin, or Herceptin) may be beneficial. These treatments are generally used to alleviate painful symptoms associated with advanced breast cancer.

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