According to a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, about 70 percent of women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer may not need chemotherapy when treating this disease. Researchers investigated the accuracy of a genetic test that assessed cancer risk (the test looks at 21 gene expressions tied to breast cancer recurrence). They concluded that this test could be used to potentially spare patients from undergoing the aggressive side-effects of chemotherapy without standing in the way of their cancer treatment.
This genetic testing provides a closer and more nuanced look at breast cancer, revealing the several different types, which can help oncologists come up with a treatment plan specific to that type instead of using a blanket approach. With breast cancer being the most common cancer across the globe (nearly two million cases were reported in 2012), having the option to safely skip chemotherapy can make a huge impact on the patient's experience and recovery.
Nearly half of all women diagnosed with breast cancer have hormone-receptor positive, HER2-negative cancer that requires a treatment plan of estrogen-blocking drugs paired with chemotherapy. This new study indicates that women who have early-stage tumors and a score between 11 to 25 on the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test may be able to skip chemotherapy, while women who score over 25 should proceed with chemotherapy because there's a chance that it has already spread to other parts of the body. These findings also show that women under 50 years of age who scored between 16-25 on the recurrence test might still benefit from chemotherapy as well.
As promising as this research is, it's important to carefully discuss your options with your doctor and determine if chemotherapy can be skipped entirely or if a small amount is still recommended in conjunction with hormone therapy and other types of treatment.