Studies have suggested that both natural and synthetic retinoids have extensive chemopreventive activity against a variety of carcinogens in vivo and in vitro. We have previously shown that growth of human breast cancer cells can be inhibited by retinoids, and retinoic acid-binding proteins have been demonstrated in these cell lines and tumor biopsies. We studied the activity of 13-cis-retinoic acid in the treatment of 18 patients with advanced breast cancer refractory to standard cytotoxic and/or endocrine therapy. Patients began on 0.5 mg/kg and escalated to 8 mg/kg over a one-month period unless toxicity (dry skin, dry mucosa, cheilitis, conjunctivitis) forced dose reduction. All these toxicities responded promptly to dose reduction. Four patients exhibited drug related hypercalcemia, 2 complained of severe earache and several had nausea, vomiting and abdominal cramping. There were no objective responses as defined by standard criteria. One patient with thrombocytopenia secondary to documented marrow involvement demonstrated a recovery of platelet count from 9000 to 110,000. 13-cis-Retinoic acid is not of apparent value in women with heavily pretreated breast cancer.
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