Breast Cancer Breakthrough Means Thousands Will Be Spared From ‘Agony Of Chemotherapy’

Patient in hospital

by Georgia Aspinall |

Around 3,000 less women per year in the UK will have to suffer through chemotherapy, following a discovery from long-awaited research into the most common form of breast cancer.

The study, published by the New England Journal of Medicine, analysed cancers using a genetic test that is already commonly used, including on the NHS, which determines whether women need chemotherapy or not.

Currently, most women who take the test fall into an ‘intermediate’ result bracket, which means doctors are unclear whether they need chemo or not. However, this research, led by the Albert Einstein Cancer Center in New York, found that these women have the same survival rates regardless.

A survival rate of nine-years was 93.8 per cent with chemotherapy, and actually 93.9 per cent without it. The results are being dubbed a 'breakthrough' and could instantly impact the way women are treated.

Without needing chemotherapy, 70 per cent of women with the most common form of early stage breast cancer will be spared the painful side effects of vomiting, fatigue and in some cases infertility and permanent nerve pain.

While the drug does save lives, it is also extremely difficult to endure, and so this trial, which was tested on 10,273 women, will allow women much more choice in their cancer treatment, able to be treated safely with just surgery and hormone therapy.

Rachel Rawson, from Breast Cancer Care, said ‘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.’

Presenting the findings at the annual meeting of the America Society of Clinical Oncology, the test was performed on a sample of a tumour removed during surgery. It looks at the activity of 21 genes, which show how aggressive the cancer is.

Strictly relating to early-stage breast cancers, these types can still be treated with hormone therapy, having not spread to the lymph nodes or have the HER2 mutation, which can make cancers grow quicker.

However, with thousands of women set to benefit from the discovery, doctors are hailing the research as inducing ‘fundamental change’. 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.'

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