For a lot of breast cancer patients, the most difficult treatment decision is whether or not to go through chemotherapy. A study, led by the Albert Einstein Cancer Centre in New York, suggests that 70% of women with the most common form of early stage breast cancer can safely skip chemotherapy.

What the breast cancer study found

The findings reveal 70% of women suffering can be treated safely with surgery and hormone therapy. It means cancer patients can avoid risks of hair loss, infertility, chronic pain and even death that comes with chemo.

The study, published on June 2 in the New England Journal of Medicine, finds that patients who fall in the beginning risk zone can do with hormone therapy alone, avoiding chemo. It follows trials of a genetic test that analyses the danger of a tumour. Cancer doctors believe these findings would change practice.

Chemotherapy is often used after surgery to reduce chances of breast cancer spreading or recurring. It saves lives. However, there are multiple side-effects of the toxic drugs used.

Skipping chemo

The study focused on cases where chemo’s value is increasingly in doubt — women with early-stage disease. The study gave 10,273 patients a test called Oncotype DX. This uses a biopsy sample to measure activity of genes involved in cell growth and response to hormone therapy to estimate the risk that cancer will recur.

At present, women who get a low score on the test are told they do not need chemo, those with a high score are told they definitely do. But most women get an intermediate result, meaning they are unclear as to what to do.

Data was presented at the world’s biggest meeting of cancer doctors and scientists in Chicago. It shows these women have the same survival rates with or without chemo. The nine-year-survival-rate was 93.9% without chemotherapy and 93.8% with chemotherapy.

“This study will transform care immediately, and for the better.” – Dr Harold Burnstein, American Society of Clinical Oncology

The study is strictly about early stage breast cancers — specifically those that can still be treated with hormone therapy, have not spread to the lymph nodes and do not have the HER2 mutation, which makes them grow more quickly. Rachel Rawson, from the charity Breast Cancer Care, said, “This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news as it could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy.”

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

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Bhawana is an intern with SheThePeople.TV

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