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Waiting to exhale

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12:58pm, November 5, 2002

A simple breath test can help identify patients most likely to suffer severe side effects of chemotherapy with docetaxel, one of the most widely used anticancer drugs. This is a result of a small study published in the April Clinical Cancer Research.

The new test measures the activity of an enzyme known as cytochrome p450 3A4 (CYP 3A4), which breaks down, or metabolizes, docetaxel and many other drugs, says Paul B. Watkins of the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill School of Medicine.

"Because of diet, genetics, and other factors, some people just metabolize drugs a lot more slowly," he says. "As a result, the recommended doses of many chemotherapies will predictably make about 10 percent of patients very ill, and 1 or 2 percent of patients may die as a direct result of the treatment." The breath test may change that by helping doctors identify patients who should get lower or higher doses than doctors would prescribe based on body weight alone, says Watki

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