Breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that more than 230,000 American women are likely to receive in the coming year. The difficulty of handling the news is often compounded when women learn that the rigors of chemotherapy are likely to go along with their treatment. While not every woman diagnosed with breast cancer requires chemo for a positive outcome, this treatment is often recommended when cancer is deemed high risk during a clinical assessment. A new screening tool may someday help better pinpoint which women would benefit from this form of treatment and which ones may skip it without dramatically elevating risks.
Called MammaPrint, the new test remains very much under study. So far, however, the research backing its use has been quite promising. A recent study conducted using the test involved patients with node-negative and 1 to 3 positive lymph node disease. The 70-gene signature test helps clinicians pinpoint patients who show high clinical risk, but low genomic risk. These women may not experience any significant benefits from undergoing chemotherapy, researchers say.
During the course of the study, about 49 percent of women in the research group were identified as those who might be able to skip chemotherapy. To test the viability of skipping chemo, some of the patients at high clinical risk, but low genomic risk were given adjuvant chemo. A portion of the study group was treated without chemotherapy in the mix. The women who received chemo had a slightly higher five-year survival rate without distant metastasis by about 1.5 percent. Women who received chemo also had a slightly higher five-year disease free survival rate, but the numbers were very close in both cases, researchers noted.
The findings, researchers say, back the use of genomic testing to determine which women may more readily benefit from chemo rather than prescribing this treatment in all cases where high clinical risk is evident. By being able to determine which women may have the potential to avoid chemo without enhancing risk factors greatly, researchers may be able to spare some women from the troubling side effects associated with chemotherapy.
Breast cancer is a very real concern for all women, especially as they age. With that in mind, it is recommended women speak with their healthcare providers about their personal risks and early screening that may need to take place. Early detection may lead to lifesaving treatments even in high risk cases. Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer should talk to their doctors about all treatment options.