A New Approach To Breast Cancer

Woman receives mammogram from health care worker
When Darcy Kazmier volunteered for a new type of treatment for breast cancer, it was for a pretty basic reason.

"I just wanted to get the chemo over more quickly," she told CBS News Correspondent Cynthia Bowers.

But she never imagined that simply decreasing the time between chemotherapy sessions would wind up increasing her odds of survival.

A four-year study released Thursday found that administering a lower dose of chemo drugs more frequently led to a 31 percent drop in the death rate -- and a 26 percent reduction in the recurrence of cancer. Other benefits included fewer side effects and a shorter term of treatment.

"The big problem with getting rid of cancer is not killing cancer cells, the big problem is that cancer cells grow back By shortening the period between treatment, we give the cancer cells less time to grow back," said Dr. Larry Norton of the Sloan Kettering Cancer Center.

The key to the success is the drug Neupogen. Because toxic chemotherapy drugs kill healthy cells along with malignant ones, a three-week interval between treatments was needed to allow the body's bone marrow to recover and begin producing white blood cells. Neupogen boosts the production of these infection fighters, which allows patients to handle a two-week cycle.

"We're really talking about saving tens of thousands of lives every year in the United States alone," Norton said.

And that's only when applied to breast cancer. Researchers say what's most exciting is now that they've figured out not just that this works, but why it works, they are hopeful they will be able to apply this same formula to different kinds of cancer.