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Test Could Spare Women From Chemotherapy

Up to 40,000 Women a Year Can Safely Skip the Toxic Drugs

Breast Cancer Overtreated

Current guidelines call for about 90% of women whose breast cancers are estrogen-dependent and who do not have cancer in the lymph nodes to get chemotherapy to reduce the odds of the cancer returning, says Sheila Taube, PhD, associate director of the Cancer Diagnostics Program at the National Cancer Institute. The one-size-fits-all approach leads to a huge amount of overtreatment, she says. That's where the new test comes in, says Eric Winer, MD. "His data will push us more in the direction of not giving it to these women. It's very significant information that can help us to avoid unnecessary treatment."

William Gradishar, MD, a breast cancer specialist at Northwestern University in Chicago, and a spokesman for the American Society of Clinical Oncology, agrees. He says he hopes that the new research will propel insurance companies, which have been reluctant to cover the $3,460 test, to start picking up the tab.

Christina Koenig, who faced the agonizing decision of whether to undergo chemotherapy when she was diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, says the test could help spare women from infertility, a common side effect of chemotherapy.

When diagnosed, she says she told her doctor to "give me everything you got" to kill the cancer cells. "I thought I was a goner," she tells WebMD.

But three years later, healthy and on the verge of getting remarried, she wishes there had been another option. "I would love to be able to take this test," says Koenig, an advocate with the Y-ME National Breast Cancer Organization in Chicago. "I'd love to know that I was not at high risk and would be around to raise a child."

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