More Breast Cancer Patients May Be Able to Effectively Skip Chemotherapy

According to The Washington Post, recent results from a study show great news for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. The news is that the majority of these women will not need additional chemotherapy after surgery. The results were reported about a week ago, and the implications of this will greatly affect the breast cancer community.

Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women. Specifically, women with BRCA mutations are five times more likely to develop breast cancer. The two most well known types of tumor suppressor genes involved in breast cancer are BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. Rare mutations in these genes can lead to breast cancer in both women and men. Symptoms of BRCA-mutated breast cancer include swelling in the breast, pain in the breast, and more. To read more about causes, symptoms and treatment for BRCA-mutated breast cancer, click here.

The results of the recent study involving breast cancer and chemotherapy came from the biggest breast cancer trial to date. The trial found that women with an intermediate risk of developing a cancer recurrence are able to safely avoid chemotherapy. In the U.S., this group includes about 65,000 women a year. That is 65,000 women yearly who can skip chemotherapy and therefore bypass all the awful side effects associated with the treatment.

An oncologist at Stanford University who heard the news offered her positive response: “We have been waiting for these results for years… They are going to change treatment and remove uncertainty for women making decisions.”

Before this, the same study determined that low risk breast cancer patients were able to detour chemotherapy. This information was previously known, but combining that data with the new, the implications are that over 85,000 women a year can escape the dreaded chemotherapy.

The specific type of breast cancer referred to in the study is one that has not spread to the lymph nodes and is driven by hormones. Additionally, the patients with this type of breast cancer do not contain a protein called HER2. In these patients, after surgery, they are treated with endocrine therapy.

Results from a federally funded trial was created to assist doctors in tailoring more specific treatments for early-stage breast cancers. The trial began in 2006 and included over 10,000 women with an early-stage breast cancer diagnosis. This study, along with previous ones, made it clear that women with low scores could effectively skip chemotherapy treatment but that those with high scores should definitely be given it.

The question then moved to how to treat those with mid-range scores. A new study was run in which scientists divided more than 6,700 women with mid-range scores into two groups with varying treatments.

Following surgery, half of this group received just endocrine therapy and the other half received endocrine therapy and chemotherapy. After years, including follow-up, results confirmed that these mid-range patients who received only endocrine therapy recovered just as well as those who received both endocrine and chemotherapy.

In the past, many early-stage breast cancer patients were encouraged to get chemotherapy to squander any potential spread of the disease, but now research proves that these women who receive additional chemotherapy are over treated. A reduction in chemotherapy means a reduced amount of terrible side effects and potentially hazardous outcomes including nausea, fatigue, and even leukemia.

University of Michigan researcher, Steven Katz, agrees. “Oncologists have been getting much smarter about dialing back treatment so that it doesn’t do more harm than good. That’s important because chemo is toxic; it whacks patients out and can result in long-term job loss,” Katz said.

But though this discovery may greatly scale back the amount of patients on chemotherapy, chemotherapy is also being increased for some cancers that need more treatment. After all, life is all about finding the right balances.

To read more about this research, click here.


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