Breast Cancer Chemo Linked To Small Leukemia Risk [Study]

Chemotherapy remains to be one of the most essential cancer treatments today, but doctors and patients alike have expressed concerns about potential harmful side effects that come along with the popular treatment. Questions have been fueled by a recent study conducted by scientists from John Hopkins University, confirming a frightening link between chemotherapy and leukemia. Scientists were able to track down a small percentage of chemo patients who developed leukemia during treatment.

But the numbers aren’t exactly worrisome. U.S. News reports that the instance of rate of leukemia among 20,000 patients from 1998 to 2007 is less than half a percent, or around 50 of all cancer patients undergoing treatment. Despite a seemingly insignificant number, researchers say they were still alarmed to find quite a number of patients developing leukemia during chemo treatment, saying that the results were double of what they expected.

Judith Karp, oncologist at John Hopkins, says, “The frequency of bone marrow cancers such as leukemia is small, there’s no question about it. However, the cumulative risk over a decade is now shown to be twice as high as we thought it was, and that risk doesn’t seem to slow down five years after treatment.”

Researchers used data derived from cancer treatment logs of patients across eight different chemo centers in the United States. Their health status were taken from the National Comprehensive Cancer Network.

Experts clarified that chemo therapies are still the safest way to go for treatment, adding that the chances of getting leukemia from chemo treatment is just small. Despite numbers exceeding researchers’ expectations, the figures are very small, and are insignificant in the grander scale. Additionally, the risks of getting leukemia from chemo outweighs the benefits of getting rid of cancer cells through radiation treatment.

Charles Shapiro, a breast cancer expert not linked to the study, says leukemia risk is an incredibly tiny risk to pay for evading death caused by cancer.

He said, “Although the risk for leukemia is about double [than previously thought], it is very, very small and it is far outweighed by the absolute benefits in terms of decreasing the risk of developing new breast cancer tumors and breast cancer deaths.”

Another expert, Stephanie Bernik from Lenox Hill Hospital, says, “It is still important to remember that chemotherapy for breast cancer has improved overall survival when used appropriately. Fortunately, we are moving into an era when chemotherapy is given more selectively, and to women that will have more of a benefit than in the past.”

“Knowing this, women will need to make choices regarding their treatment. The risks and benefits need to be discussed with the medical oncologist to ensure that treatment is being optimized,” Bernik added.

[Image from Wikimedia]