Skip to content

    Breast Cancer Health Center

    Font Size
    A
    A
    A

    Test Could Spare Women From Chemotherapy

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

    continued...

    In those women with a low recurrence score, the risk of cancer spreading to other parts of the body -- what doctors call distant recurrence -- was only about 5%, regardless of whether chemotherapy was given.

    But in women at high risk, there was a clear benefit: About 88% of those who got the one-two punch with chemotherapy and tamoxifen were free of cancer 10 years later, compared with only 60% of those who got tamoxifen alone.

    And women at intermediate risk? The benefits are still unclear, the experts say, adding this group will be studied more in a new National Cancer Institute trial.

    In the meantime, Wolmark urges eligible women to have the test. "Women should find out their risk of recurrence," he says. "Based on that risk, they can make a more informed decision about whether or not to move ahead with chemotherapy

    His second study, presented here today at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, shows that the 50% of women who fall into the low-risk category gain little if any benefit from chemotherapy.

    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.

    Today on WebMD

    Breast Cancer Overview
    From mammograms to living after treatment.
    Dealing with breast cancer
    Get answers to your questions.
     
    woman having mammogram
    The 3 latest tips to know.
    woman undergoing breast cancer test
    Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
     
    Resolved To Quit Smoking
    VIDEO
    Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
    Article
     
    Woman getting mammogram
    Article
    Screening Tests for Women
    Article
     
    serious woman
    Article
    Pink badge on woman chest to support breat cancer
    QUIZ
     
    what is your cancer risk
    Article
    breast cancer survivors
    Article