Now, a massive breast cancer study has just revealed that most women in the early stages of one of the most common forms of the disease can completely skip chemotherapy without harming their chances of survival, remission or recurrence.
In the USA, the most recent data shows around 135,000 new cases yearly of the specific breast cancer studied, says Dr. Joseph Sparano, an oncologist at Montefiore Medical Center, a professor of medicine at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and the lead author of the study.
The new study of almost 7,000 women found that use of the already available Oncotype DX gene test could pinpoint those women who needed chemotherapy, and those who did not.
According to Dr. Stephanie Bernik, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City, "Breast surgeons and oncologists have been using the 21-gene assay for years to guide treatment after surgical excision".
"At lot of works needs to be done, but the potential exists for a paradigm shift in cancer therapy - a unique drug for every cancer patient - it is very different to any other kind of treatment".
The National Cancer Institute sponsored the study, along with several foundations.
Dr Steven Rosenberg, who led the trial by the US National Cancer Institute, said.
He told the BBC: "We think this is a remarkable result". The most common chemotherapeutic regimens used to treat women in the dual, chemoendocrine therapy group were either a docetaxel-cyclophosphamide regimen or anthracycline-containing regimens.
Patients were divided in two groups: those who received 25 irradiation sessions over five weeks, and those who did not undergo further treatment. Or was it sufficient for them to be treated only with endocrine therapy, which blocks the cancer-spurring properties of hormones? Such individualized therapies promise to be more effective and cause fewer side effects than more traditional ones developed for the average patient.
"Moving forward, when women are making this decision, this study will help us put it into perspective and give them better advice next week than we were able to give them last week", Jennifer Litton, an associate professor and oncologist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas, explained to USA Today. Apparently, those who are receiving the said treatment under current medical standards don't actually need it. Previously, the same study had shown that women with a low risk of recurrence can avoid chemo, and other studies had shown that those with a high risk of recurrence should receive it.
Carey pointed to some "grey areas" at the boundaries of the recurrance scores that need futher investigation, and said patients would need to discuss these details with their doctors before any decisions on treatement are made. Importantly, chemotherapy still showed some benefit in women with higher Oncotype recurrence scores, and in some women under the age of 50.
Oncotype DX first hit the market in 2004. "I sort of viewed chemo as extra insurance", she said.
"Oncologists have been getting much smarter about dialing back treatment so that it doesn't do more harm than good", Steven Katz, a University of MI researcher who examines medical decision-making, told the Washington Post. "After the treatment dissolved most of my tumours, I was able to go for a 40-mile hike", she added.
The study is thought to be the largest breast cancer treatment trial ever conducted.
Women at low risk could skip chemo.
For the treatment, doctors cut small tissues from Perkins' tumours to figure out the mutations specific to her cancer.
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The man sent by North Korea leader to U.S….
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