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Is Chemotherapy the Right Course of Action?

If you have had any experience with chemotherapy or know anyone who has had it, this report will be of particular interest.

According to a newly released medical study supported by the National Cancer Institute and others, a new genetic test can predict the risk of breast cancer recurrence and may even identify women who will benefit most from chemotherapy treatment.

Discovered early, breast tumors and cancer can be removed. Chemotherapy often follows to prevent the cancer from returning. Chemo often comes with life-threatening side effects, as well as hair loss, nausea, mouth sores.

Dr. Melody Cobleigh explains. "It's been given to most women unnecessarily, not intentionally, but because we couldn't identify who were the women who would benefit and who were the women who would not benefit."

Now, a genetic test can predict which patients are likely to see their breast cancer return and therefore better determine their need for chemo.

"We can now say, ‘Guess what, you don't need chemotherapy -- you have a great prognosis,’ or on the other hand for women at high risk we can say, ‘You definitely need this and it will definitely improve your outlook,’ " said Dr. Cobleigh.

In America some one in ten women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime. Suzanne Lavorta was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42. Surgery removed her tumor. She then faced then agonizing decision to proceed with chemotherapy or not.

"I really didn't want to have the chemotherapy," said Suzanne.

She declined, and took the new test; a cancer cell from the removed tumor is examined. The focus is on 21 specific genes that can determine whether the woman's cancer will return. The test can even tell a woman if chemotherapy will work at all on her particular cancer.

Doctor Eric Winer says "This is going to become part of the standard approach over the course of the next few years."

Suzanne's test revealed the risk of her cancer returning was so low she wouldn't need chemotherapy.

"I think it's very valuable, it definitely gives you peace of mind," said Suzanne Lavorta. Researchers say this one test could help thousands of breast cancer patients every year get the treatment they need and avoid what they don't.