Is chemotherapy always the treatment for breast cancer patients? Maybe not, says a recent study
When women are diagnosed with breast cancer they have lots of questions, and learning about their treatment options is at the top of the list. They often ask me whether or not they will need chemotherapy.
“It’s an understandable concern—chemotherapy can be an effective, lifesaving treatment for breast cancer. But side effects like nausea, fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores and increased infection risk make it something a lot of people hope to avoid.” – VALERIE GORMAN, MD, BREAST SURGEON AT TEXAS SURGICAL SPECIALISTS
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GENES CAN POINT TO RISK
The study is called the Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (Rx), or TAILORx. The women in the study had genetic testing done to analyze 21 genes that are linked with breast cancer. Based on those results, they were classified as low, intermediate, or high risk for cancer recurring.
Thanks to previous studies, researchers knew that low-risk patients could be treated with hormone therapy alone after surgery, while high-risk patients would need chemotherapy as well. It was the big group of women in the intermediate category for which the benefits of chemotherapy were unclear.
Researchers compared outcomes for women who had both chemotherapy and hormone therapy to others who had only hormone therapy. For 70 percent of women with the most common type of breast cancer, they found that chemotherapy didn’t provide any additional benefit.
They determined that most low- and intermediate-risk women could skip chemotherapy without increasing their risk of cancer recurring. For high-risk women, and for some women under age 50 at intermediate risk, chemotherapy might be a good treatment option.
The study included more than 10,000 women in over 1,100 locations in the U.S., Australia, Canada, Ireland, New Zealand, and Peru who had early-stage, HR-positive, HER2-negative, axillary lymph node– negative breast cancer.
SOMETIMES CHEMOTHERAPY IS BEST
It’s important to keep in mind that a lot of women with breast cancer fall into the categories included in the study. But for those who have other types of breast cancer, chemotherapy can be the right course of action.
“For many of my patients, I think it’s a good idea for them to have the genetic testing done to evaluate their risk. Once we know their results we can best discuss and evaluate the treatment options that are right for them. Every woman is different, and this research can help each of them make a more informed decision.”