According to a landmark study, a large percentage of individuals with the most common form of early breast cancer could safely skip chemotherapy. The findings could impact thousands of people each year.
“Chemotherapy has undoubtedly reduced breast cancer mortality. However, as the authors of the new study write, "[T]he majority of patients may receive chemotherapy unnecessarily.”
A new study concludes that chemotherapy may be avoidable for many people with breast cancer.
While new therapies such as immunotherapies are becoming increasingly crucial in treating cancer, chemotherapy is still a mainstay.
In short, chemotherapy uses drugs to cure or control cancer throughout the body.
As opposed to surgery or radiation therapy — which concentrates on the tumor and the area surrounding it — chemotherapy will affect the whole body.
Though chemotherapy is effective, it carries with it a range of significant side effects, such as hair loss, increased risk of bleeding, susceptibility to infection, nausea, vomiting, and anemia.
Consequently, chemotherapy is only used when deemed entirely necessary. The challenge lies in determining exactly when it is entirely necessary.
The difficult gray area
Individuals with breast cancer sometimes have their tumors analyzed using a gene test called the Oncotype DX test. This examines how active 21 specific genes are and provides a "recurrence score" of 0–100.
A score nearer to 100 denotes a cancer that is most likely to recur and infiltrate other parts of the body.
When scores are high, chemotherapy will be used following surgery or radiation therapy to lower the risk of the cancer returning. For individuals with low scores, the tumors are considered less dangerous, and chemotherapy is not deemed essential.