Good News For Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Skipping Chemo And A Pre-Tumor Test

Shelley Hazen

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it comes with encouraging news. Research has revealed a new test to avoid chemotherapy, another that may predict tumors, and optimistic numbers about survival rates.

The Associated Press reported new research that reveals certain women with early-stage breast cancer may be able to avoid chemotherapy based on a gene test, which can identify patients whose illness could be treated solely with hormone-blocking drugs by measuring the activity of genes that control cell growth and other markers that indicate a positive response to hormone therapy.

And these drugs would do such a great job, chemo wouldn't even be needed. Doctors can instead focus the treatment, which comes with unpleasant side effects and risks, on patients who most need it.

"This should provide a lot of reassurance to women and their physicians," said Dr. Kathy Albain of Loyola University Medical Center, who was part of the study.

Essentially, people with the most common type -- early stage, localized, and fueled by estrogen and progesterone -- can avoid chemotherapy. About 10,000 women participated in the study; the gene test showed 16 percent of them were low-risk -- and didn't need chemo. After five years, 99 percent of them hadn't relapsed and were still alive. A slightly less percentage didn't have any invasive cancer at all.

Also in time for awareness month, scientists in Sweden think they could someday develop a way to predict, decades ahead of time, whether a tumor will form, the Daily Mail added. At Uppsala University, researchers compared samples of cancerous breast tissue from 300 patients with apparently healthy tissue. Roughly half the time, the normal tissue showed genetic changes that are usually seen in advanced cases.

This sign may show up years, or even decades, before breast cancer develops. Researcher Jan Dumanski thinks someday, they can develop a test that will spot these early signs. If that happens -- perhaps in five years, depending on funding -- patients could get a jump start on treatment or closely monitor any possible changes.

"This opens up possibilities to develop diagnostic methods that could identify women at risk, before the tumour is formed and much earlier than it can be detected by mammography."

Breast Cancer Awareness Month also opens with good news about surviving the disease, the Pittsburgh Morning Sun reported. Of the 234,190 cases of breast cancer expected this year, 40,730 will result in death.

Dr. Boban Mathew at the Via Christi Cancer Center said surviving all types have improved in 40 years. As for breast cancer, about 61 percent of cases are localized and most who face this diagnosis will survive. Medical cooperation among doctors involved in treatment and drug improvements are credited with the positive numbers.

Meanwhile, awareness month isn't opening only with good news. According to Slate, a study has shown that computer-assisted detection for mammography doesn't help radiologists spot tumors -- in fact, it may make them more likely to miss cancers. In other words, they did much better without technology.


Unfortunately, most mammograms in the U.S. are computer assisted, and this adds $400 million in health care costs every year.

"The bad-news story from society's perspective is we're spending a lot of money on something that sounded like a great idea—and just isn't," said Diana S.M. Buist, who was involved in the study.

Given that the idea behind this awareness month is to be more aware of the disease, how you can spot it, and what to do if you are diagnosed, scientists have created a new online calculator that asks your age, ethnicity and race, family history, whether you've had a biopsy, and your breast density to determine your risk, according to Yahoo Health. The tool is for ladies aged 35 to 74. Check it out here.

[Photos Courtesy Jared Wickerham / Photo Courtesy, Julie Keen, Guschenkova / Shutterstock]