One in eight women in the UK will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime – but new research may mean that around 70% of women with the most common form of early-stage breast cancer can avoid gruelling chemotherapy treatment.
The research, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, examined a genetic test that is commonly used to determine whether patients need chemotherapy or not. Most women fall into an ‘intermediate’ result bracket, which means it is not clear if chemotherapy will be required.
The results from the study, led by the Albert Einstein Cancer Center in New York, found that women with early-stage breast cancers who fall in this ‘intermediate’ bracket have the same survival rate regardless of whether or not they receive chemotherapy.
The results could already change the way women are treated, avoiding potentially unnecessary courses of chemo in some cases. The side effects of chemotherapy – which uses drugs that are toxic to cells to fight the cancer – include fatigue, hair loss, risk of infection, nausea and anaemia. Other treatments for cancer include surgery and hormone therapy.
Over ten thousand women were involved in the trial, the results of which should allow women more choice in their treatment. Dr. Alistair Ring, a consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London, told the BBC: ‘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.’ He estimates approximately 3000 women a year in the UK will no longer need chemotherapy because of this trial.
Rachel Rawson from Breast Cancer Care hopes the breakthrough will help patients make more informed decisions: ‘Every day, women with certain types of breast cancer face the terrible dilemma of whether or not to have the treatment, without hard facts about the benefit for them. This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news as it could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy.’