Early-Stage Breast Cancer May Not Require Chemo, New Study Suggests

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer may not actually require chemotherapy, and could benefit from skipping the toxic procedure.

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Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer may not actually require chemotherapy, and could benefit from skipping the toxic procedure.

In a recently released major medical study expected to change the face of contemporary breast cancer treatment and therapy, details emerge that suggest women diagnosed with earlier stages of breast cancer may not actually require chemo treatment. Going beyond that, chemotherapy may actually be a net negative and inadvisable for women under this medical scenario, The New York Times reports.

“We can spare thousands and thousands of women from getting toxic treatment that really wouldn’t benefit them,” said Dr. Ingrid A. Mayer of Vanderbilt University Medical Center, one of the authors behind the study. “This is very powerful. It really changes the standard of care.”

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Findings from the study suggest that genetic testing conducted on cancerous cells or tumor samples could be used to identify women who would benefit from opting out of chemotherapy. Instead of undergoing the draining and often damaging radiation therapy, these women would instead be prescribed a regimen of hormone blockers targeting the production and distribution of estrogen. The pharmaceutical treatment tamoxifen and related cognates and derivatives are the primary drugs lined up to take on this role, having already been recognized by physicians and oncologists as effective in both the treatment of existing breast cancer as well as in preventative care of the same. Tamixofen and similar drug treatments reduce the risk of recurrence of the disease and reduce the rate of mortality for those diagnosed with breast cancer.

The findings, when verified, replicated, and disseminated within the American medical apparatus, could spare up to 60,000 women a year from having to undergo the deleterious and aggressive chemo sessions when diagnosed with the disease. Dr. Joseph A. Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York gave a rather positive review of the findings laid out by the study.

“The results indicate that now we can spare chemotherapy in about 70 percent of patients who would be potential candidates for it based on clinical features.”

The study is published in full by The New England Journal of Medicine and goes by the abbreviated name of TAILORx. It is an extension of earlier research being conducted on largely the same subject matter, though these recent findings were somewhat unexpected and serendipitous for many sufferers.

Patients most likely to find hope in the findings are representative of those most heavily relied upon in the study sample, that is — women who have been diagnosed with early-stage breast tumors measuring no larger than five centimetres, those patients for whom the cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes, are sensitive to estrogen, test negative for the HER2 protein, and finally score between 11 and 25 on a commonly employed genetic test panel that indicates the probability of recurrence.

Not all potential patients should be too hopeful with the findings laid out by the TAILORx study, as there are some caveats that come attached to the research. The most notable exemption comes in the form of advice for some younger women facing a breast cancer diagnosis, for which chemotherapy may still remain a preferred precaution, with the reasons for this remaining unclear.