WASHINGTON - After a diagnosis of breast cancer, many women have surgery followed by chemotherapy and radiation. But a new study shows that if the cancer is caught early enough, women might be able to avoid the chemotherapy.
Since she was diagnosed with breast cancer last April, Amy Adam values family time even more.
“It made us aware that when it comes down to it, family is what matters," she said.
Adam was lucky — a mammogram caught her cancer early… when the tumor was just three by four millimeters, smaller than the size of a pencil eraser. Her treatment — a lumpectomy… followed by radiation.
“No chemo, did not have chemo,” she said.
Dr. Emily Albright is a surgical oncologist at the University of Missouri Health Care. She says more women with early-stage breast cancer may be able to skip chemotherapy. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that genetic testing can determine the likelihood of the cancer returning.
The study found women with a low risk of the cancer recurring didn't benefit from chemotherapy. Women with a high risk of recurrence do better with chemotherapy. But Albright says doctors didn't know how to advise women in the mid-range.
“The recent results have clarified that for women at intermediate risk of recurrence, the majority of those do not benefit from chemotherapy,” she said.
With genetic testing, doctors can determine the likelihood of a woman's cancer returning. Most people know that nausea, hair loss and fatigue result from chemotherapy, but chemotherapy can also cause heart and nerve damage.
Albright says the results of this study will help many patients whose breast cancer is caught early.
“As we learn more about the biology, we?re able to tailor treatments to the specific type of tumor that a patient has, so there are some small tumors that may be more aggressive and there may be some larger tumors that are less aggressive,” she said.
Screening was key in catching Amy Adam's cancer early. Mammograms can detect a lump two years before a woman can even feel it.
Adam said it was a huge relief not to have to undergo chemotherapy. Because of this study, more women will will be able to get treated without the negative side effects of chemotherapy.