For many women diagnosed with breast cancer, chemotherapy is the next logical step. But according to a new study, up to 70% of women with a specific kind of breast cancer may not require this form of treatment at all.
Chemotherapy is a treatment that often comes with tons of unwanted side effects, such as hair loss, changes in weight, nausea, fatigue, and anemia. But according to a brand-new study known as the Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment (Rx) (TAILORx), published in The New England Journal of Medicine on June 3, 2018, a certain type of breast cancer doesn’t require this invasive and tiring treatment in up to 70% of women.
This type of breast cancer must be in its early stages and is hormone receptor positive and HER2 – or human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 – negative. Essentially, this means the cancer was discovered in its early stages, can bind itself to particular hormones, and lacks the HER2 receptor. This sort of cancer is the most common variety of breast cancer as well.
The Study Vs. The Risk Score
The study involved 10,000 women with this kind of breast cancer had the tumors in their breasts analyzed on a molecular level with a test that examines 21 genes. The test then provides a score, on a scale of zero to one hundred, that helps to predict whether or not the cancer will return post-surgery. A risk score below 10 is considered low, meaning the women would not need chemotherapy, while one above 25 is considered high, meaning the women would need chemotherapy.
Researchers specifically looked closer into those scoring between these two extremes – totaling about 6,700 women – as they were uncertain as to whether these women actually needed the chemotherapy they were undergoing. For this phase of the test, the women were equally divided in a random manner into two groups. The first would only undergo hormone therapy after their surgery to remove the tumor, while the second would receive chemotherapy along with hormone therapy.
Researchers would then check on the women twice – once in five years post-surgery and the second time nine years after the surgery. And guess what they found?
Chemotherapy Is Sometimes Not Required
As it turned out, of all these women after five years, 92.8% of those who did not receive chemotherapy were cancer-free while 93.1% of those who did receive it were cancer-free. Then, after nine years, that number was at 83.3% and 84.3% respectively. Essentially, there was almost no difference at all in these recurrence rates!
And the most surprising part about this is that the difference that does exist is so small statistically that it can even be put down to pure chance! Basically, there is pretty much no benefit at all for women who have a recurrence risk score between 10 and 25 to undergo the taxing process of chemotherapy. This is amazing, as it changes the way oncologists will recommend treatments to women who fall into that medium risk category!
But There’s A Catch
The researchers did mention, though, that women who are premenopausal or younger than the age of 50 and also fall on the higher end of the medium recurrence risk spectrum may experience a small positive benefit from chemo and should discuss that as a treatment option with their oncologists or doctors.
Still, even with this caveat, this research is instrumental in making steps towards less severe cancer treatments, and it’s just another bound towards a future where treatments for cancer can be tailored specifically to the patient’s unique situation in a more personal approach.
The clincher to all this? A whopping 260,000 women fall into this medium recurrence risk spectrum when diagnosed with breast cancer per year – and this research has shown that they do not need to undergo chemotherapy!
It’s fantastic to see cancer research coming so far. In fact, the rates of survival for cancer have increased twice fold in the last 4 decades alone, and new research like this can help bring those rates up even higher!