Many women who are in the early stages of breast cancer get chemotherapy; but now researchers are saying this might not be necessary.
CBS news reports on a new possible treatment plan for women with early stage breast cancer.
Experts are saying women can now skip chemotherapy without hurting their odds of surviving the disease.
What is the normal treatment plan?
The usual treatment for early stage breast cancer is surgery followed by years of a hormone-blocking drug. After this many women are instructed to have chemo, to help kill any stray cancer cells that may have spread beyond the breast and could seed a new cancer later. Physicians are aware that most of these women do not need chemo but there are no good ways to tell who can safely skip the therapy.
CBS explains that a California company, Genomic Health Inc., has sold a test called Oncotype DX since 2004 to help gauge this threat. The test analyzes the activity of genes that control cell growth, and others that show a likely response to hormone therapy treatment.
This new study focuses on the importance of the gene activity test.
What does the test do?
“The test accurately identified a group of women whose cancers are so likely to respond to hormone-blocking drugs that adding chemo would do little if any good while exposing them to side effects and other health risks,” according to CBS news.
What did the findings show?
Experts found that women in the study who skipped chemo based on the test had less than a 1 percent chance of cancer recurring far away, such as the liver or lungs, within the next five years.
Dr. Clifford Hudis of New York's Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, agreed that this is an important finding and true. He said, “There is really no chance that chemotherapy could make that number better. Using the gene test lets us focus our chemotherapy more on the higher risk patients who do benefit" and spare others the ordeal.”
The National Cancer Institute sponsored the study. The findings were published online Monday by the New England Journal of Medicine and were analyzed recently at the European Cancer Congress in Vienna.
Which form of breast cancer did the study involve?
The study looked at the most common type, the early stage. This is when it has not spread to lymph nodes and it is hormone-positive, meaning the tumor's growth is fueled by estrogen or progesterone.
Statistics show that every year more than 100,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with this.
What were the results of the study?
The independent monitors recommended the findings on the low-risk group be released, because it was clear that adding chemo would not help their outcome. Researchers found that after five years, about 99 percent had not relapsed, and 98 percent were alive. Around 94 percent were free of any invasive cancer, including new cancers at other sites or in the other breast.
Dr. Hope Rugo, a breast cancer specialist at the University of California, San Francisco, with no role in the study, said,
“These patients who had low risk scores by Oncotype did extraordinarily well at five years. There is no chance that for these patients, that chemotherapy would have any benefit.”