According to new research, women with early-stage breast cancer may not actually need chemotherapy, the standard treatment when it comes to curing the disease. This is expected to quickly change the way women get treated.
The study found that gene tests on tumour samples were able to pinpoint women who could safely skip chemotherapy, taking only a drug that stops the body from making the hormone estrogen or blocks it. This treatment is called endocrine therapy, and it is becoming an essential part of treatment for most women because it lowers the risk of recurrence, new tumours, and death from the disease.
Dr. Joseph A. Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the leader of the study, said, “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.”
There is still a group of women, those aged 50 and younger, who might benefit from chemo, even if the gene-test results suggest otherwise. It is not clear why, but regardless, these women will receive careful consultation to decide the right course of treatment.
Chemotherapy can produce very positive results, but it is certainly not free from serious risks. In addition to the hair loss and nausea that patients strongly dislike, chemo can cause heart and nerve damage, and leave patients vulnerable to infection. Endocrine therapy comes with its risks too, but appears to be a good alternative to chemotherapy.
The great thing is that there’s not just one course of treatment anymore; women are being given life-giving options.