updated 5/19/2004 2:45:53 PM ET 2004-05-19T18:45:53

A drug women have long used to battle breast cancer also can help men with advanced prostate cancer live a little longer, the Food and Drug Administration ruled Wednesday.

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The drug is Taxotere, and used together with the steroid prednisone it becomes the first treatment that FDA deems potentially life-lengthening for men whose advanced prostate cancer doesn’t respond to hormone therapy.

In a study comparing the Taxotere/prednisone combination to standard therapy, the Taxotere users lived on average 2.5 months longer.

Some may live a little longer than that, but even those few extra months can be an important benefit, said FDA’s Dr. Ramzi Dagher, who led the agency’s review of the drug.

“For the first time, we can tell patients that there is something that actually has a promise of a survival benefit,” he said.

Some 230,900 U.S. men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer this year, the American Cancer Society estimates, and 29,900 will die.

Side effects are typical of chemotherapy, including nausea, hair loss, bone marrow suppression, fluid retention and some damage to nerves in the hands and feet.

Taxotere, known chemically as docetaxel, is best known as a treatment for breast cancer; it’s also used against lung cancer.

For prostate cancer, patients must take the steroid prednisone daily and a Taxotere injection once every three weeks. No one yet knows why that combination is important for the prostate effect, Dagher said.

Taxotere is made by Aventis Pharmaceuticals of Bridgewater, N.J.

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