It is now possible for patients with breast cancer to be treated without them needing to go through the painful process that is chemotherapy. A new study that has been published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 3rd June 2018 has stated quite clearly that as a form of breast cancer treatment chemotherapy is not effective at all.
The study looked at patients who had been diagnosed with different types of breast cancer such as early stage, hormone receptor positive, and invasive breast cancer. A genetic test was conducted and the scores were studied.
It was seen that hormone treatments benefited them just as much as chemotherapy. The thing with chemotherapy is that many patients are not able to tolerate it that well and it can have some consequences over the long term too. Hormone treatments, however, are known to have lesser side effects. However, before the results of the study were published a lot of people in the study group had been prescribed chemotherapy by their doctors. The doctors, in this case, had depended on the best information that was available to them and had assumed that chemotherapy would be helpful for those patients.
It can now be believed that those patients could have avoided the ill effects of chemotherapy and the treatment could have been just as effective as well.
This confusion has happened because of Oncotype DX, which is basically a kind of genetic test. It is basically used to rate the chance of a patient suffering from the return of breast cancer. It normally uses a 100 point scale for this purpose. It examines 21 various genes that are supposed to have a role to play in breast cancer development. This new research is helpful in the sense because it provides doctors and patients all the information that they need with regards to recommending the right treatment.
The treatment, in this case, is supposed to be based on the unique results of a patient.
Experiments done in the past have shown that a group of people with a certain kind of results in these genetic tests would be benefited if chemotherapy is combined with endocrine therapy. Then there is another group that is supposed to be benefited only by endocrine therapy. This kind of therapy basically stops estrogen from getting to the tumors. Normally the tumors use this estrogen in order to grow. However, there was also a substantial number who were in a gray area.
In their case, it was not clear as to which treatment would prove to be effective. In these studies, the doctors also looked data for the patients in the last group. They decided automatically that chemotherapy would be the best possible option for them. However, the researchers who conducted the new and controlled experiment discovered that chemotherapy did not hold any special advantage over hormone treatments solely.
The new study does fill up a major knowledge gap as far as medical science is concerned. Confusion, however, remains on why it took such a long time to reach this present situation where one could analyze properly and in detail before taking a step as such.
NPR says that each year there are 65,000 patients suffering from breast cancer who can be categorized in the gray group. It also needs to be noted in this context that even though Oncotype DX was launched in 2004 results, which suggested that chemotherapy could have a positive effect in case of some patients, were not published till 2015.
From a wider point of view, this study shows that there is a constant need for researchers and doctors to keep on evaluating the assumptions that they are following in order to make their decisions. This is especially true in case of a disease such as cancer, where people have such little time and which is so sensitive.
It also needs to be said that this study does not say that chemotherapy is no longer a good enough treatment for cancer. It is just that patients now have a greater chance of receiving treatments that are tailored to suit their situation.