As breast cancer diagnosis and treatment improves, women have seen better outcomes. But those results also have led researchers to question how much treatment is actually necessary. Would some of those women have done just as well without any intervention?
A recent cancer precision medicine research trial sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and paid for, in part, by proceeds from the breast cancer stamp, tried to answer that question.
Genetic test reveals recurrence risk
The Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (TAILORx) follow more than 10,200 women with early-stage breast cancer for over a decade. The findings were published in the New England Journal of Medicine in June 2018, and revealed that many women with hormone receptor-positive, HER2-negative, axillary node-negative early-stage breast cancer — the most common type of breast cancer in the U.S. — may no longer require chemotherapy.
Researchers used a molecular profiling test called Oncotype DX to identify women with this type of cancer who have a low risk of recurrence. If the genetic test shows they do, they may be able to avoid chemotherapy treatment, which can cause side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, and nausea. Chemotherapy also has the potential to harm healthy cells, and can lead to leukemia and long-term heart damage .
Results of the trial found that adjuvant hormone therapy (given after surgery) alone worked as well as hormone therapy and chemotherapy together. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), the study shows that chemotherapy may be avoided in about 70 percent of women with this type of cancer when its use is guided by the Oncotype test.
Breast cancer treatment options
Chemotherapy use for breast cancer has been on the decline over the past few years, according to a study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute. However, that doesn’t mean that chemotherapy for breast cancer is not still an effective treatment for some women.
Depending on what type of breast cancer you have and its stage, as well as other factors such as your age, family history, and overall health, your Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers oncologist will recommend a personalized treatment plan that may include chemotherapy, radiation, hormone therapy, immunotherapy, surgery, or a combination of two or more of these treatments.