A new genetic test means that thousands of women with breast cancer could be spared the ordeal of going through chemotherapy treatment.
Researchers at the Albert Einstein Cancer Center in New York have undergone trials of a test analysing the danger of a tumour.
Findings have suggested that women with early-stage breast cancer – which is not as serious – could benefit from just receiving surgery and hormone therapy – rather than aggressive chemotherapy treatment.
Scientists trialled 10, 273 women, using a genetic test that is currently available on the NHS.
Dr Alistair Ring, a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, told the BBC that the findings from the trial will start to affect patients from today (Monday 4th June), and the treatment decisions made for them. He also suggested that over 3,000 UK women a year will benefit from the findings, and will receive alternative treatment to chemotherapy.
Dr Ring said, “Oncologists have been waiting for these results, it will affect practice on Monday morning.
“It’s a fundamental change in the way we look after women with early breast cancer.”
Breast Cancer Care representative Rachel Rawson also told the BBC, “This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news as it could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy.”
The new findings may also save the NHS money, by reducing the amount of chemotherapy drugs required.
At the moment, the genetic test works to evaluate the severity of a tumour, and to assess what sort of treatment it would need. Currently, women who have a low-grade tumour are told they do not need chemotherapy. Women who have a more aggressive tumour, are however told that they do.
But many women get an ‘intermediate result’. If women get this result, the treatment path is unclear. However, with this new test, women could instead be treated effectively without chemo.
It is likely however that the test will only apply to low-grade tumours – aggresive tumours that could are late stages and could, or have spread, will likely still be treated with chemotherapy.
Studies have shown for this group though that survival rates with and without chemotherapy are essentially the same, at 93%. So it is thought to make sense to spare women the often gruelling treatment that is chemo.
The news appears to be a great result for many patients, who will now not be subject to the traumatic side effects chemotherapy can bring.
Chemo can cause a number of side effects, ranging from nausea, vomiting, extreme fatigue, increased risk of infection and blood clots, and anaemia, and loss of hair.
Some chemotherapy drugs can also increase your risk of contracting a different cancer later in life – most likely leukaemia. Often, the benefit is thought to outhweigh the risks and negative side effects.
On the other hand, surgery and hormone therapy can provide far less negative side effects – although they do also require extensive recovery time.