New Test Could Spare Thousands of Women from Toxic Chemo

A new test has just been approved for general use in the UK that could spare thousands of women from having to undergo unnecessary chemotherapy following breast cancer surgery.

Called the Oncotype DX, the test will be used to examine tumors removed during surgery to discover whether the cancer is likely to have spread to different parts of the body.

Scientists can discern this because there are around 21 genetic markers and changes in cells that can betray whether a breast cancer tumor is likely to spread or regrow. If the tumor shows little sign of having the potential to spread, the patient might be spared grueling rounds of chemotherapy in favor of a lower impact hormonal treatment.

While unfortunately still a necessary treatment in many cases, chemotherapy medications are harmful to the body. Chemo cannot distinguish between fast growing cancer cells and other types of fast growing cells such as those associated with skin and hair renewal and those found in the stomach. As such, it can have a toxic impact on the body, making patients tired, sick, and weak as it breaks down even normal healthy tissue.

Obviously, being spared chemotherapy if there’s a chance it isn’t needed will be advantageous not just to a patient’s physical health but also to her well-being and psychological recovery.

Due to the fact that not all breast cancers are the same, though, this test will only be appropriate for patients with certain types of breast cancer: those who have what is termed early stage breast cancer which is estrogen receptor positive, lymph node negative, or what is called human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 negative.

In total, this could mean that around 9,700 women of the 50,000 in the UK that will be diagnosed with breast cancer could benefit.

The trials that led this genetic test to being approved have been extensive. It’s reported that more than 6,000 patients worldwide have allowed themselves to be tested across 15 different trial sets. Doctors in roughly a third of cases changed their treatment plans as a result of these tests, with many encouraging outcomes.

This test will now be offered by the UK’s National Health Service as part of its cancer treatment plans. At the same time, this week, two other genetic tests were not approved for general use due to insufficient evidence of their effectiveness — thus showing that this is still a work in progress.

Still, Professor Peter Johnson of Cancer Research UK is quoted as saying such tests represent an important advance in science that has real world benefits: “We’re getting better at understanding which cancers need extra treatment, thanks to research into the molecular changes contained in individual tumors. This test is a great example of how our science can make a real difference to patients with cancer by making sure they have the treatment that is right for them.”

This is part of a new wave of what is being termed precision medicine that could vastly improve the accuracy of cancer treatments and as a result greatly improve the lives of cancer patients.

For instance, genetic tests are now available to screen for the likelihood of developing different types of hereditary cancers before those cancers manifest, and post diagnosis tests are also available to determine the malignancy of not just breast cancers but lung, gastrointestinal and blood cancers.

Together all this adds up to better insight into cancer’s nature and how to eradicate it, offering new hope to cancer patients that they will have a treatment that is right for their case and not the, until now unfortunately necessary, blanket approach to cancer treatment that for many patients can be as hard to deal with as cancer surgery itself.

Image credit: Thinkstock.

66 comments

Donna Ferguson
Donna F.3 years ago

ty

Margarita G.
Margarita G.3 years ago

Thanks you!

Chloe M.
Chloe M.3 years ago

It has already been approved for use in the US. My mother was diagnosed with Stage IIa breast cancer back in March. After her lumpectomy, they had to decide her course of treatment and told her about this test. They measure the risk based off the characteristics of the tumor and its cellsand break it down into 3 categories - low, medium, and high. After testing the tumor, they determined that chemo would give her no benefit and that radiation would be just as effective. She was elated. I mean, if she HAD to get chemo, she said she would do it, but it was not something she was looking forward to. Knowing that she didn't have to go through the stress that chemo adds to a cancer diagnosis, I was so happy to not have to see her go through that. I think every woman (or man) that has been recently diagnosed with breast cancer should ask their doctor about this test. It really does have it's benefits.

ivan s.
ivan shelley3 years ago

THIS WILL BE A MAJOR BREAK THROUGH FOR WOMEN, WHO ALREADY SUFFERING FROM CANCER, WILL NOT BE PUT THROUGH THE AGONY OF CHEMO. PRAYING IT IS SUCCESSFUL AS ANY SOLUTION POSSIBLE IS WELCOMED.

GOD LUCK AND BLESS YOU ALL

LADIES SUFFERING FROM CANCER MY DEEPEST THOUGHTS, PRAYERS AND WISHES FOR YOU ALL

Lynn C.
Lynn C.3 years ago

ty

Alex H.
Alex H.3 years ago

Most women I have come across who have had breast cancer surgery have been either terrified or threatened by oncologists into having liver-destroying chemotherapy.The ones who haven't had it are still alive!Considering the fact that Dr Burzynski in Texas has a non-invasive,much gentler cure for cancer which WORKS,why the hell is it not available everywhere.As for looking for a genetic link to a chemical poisoning/lifestyle disease,well,what a con and a scam!?This is just designed to keep this lucrative "industry"going for another 60 years!?

Arild Warud
Arild Warud3 years ago

Good.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana Garcia3 years ago

I hope the research continues w/o animal lab experiments and zeroing on the people already at risk who patiently allow the testing since they and their next of kin will probably be very likely to benefit. (This considering there might be an inherited factor!) I agree with those who have said our toxic environment probably accounts for a big share of the terrible stats of the cancer incidence.

Jane R.
Jane R.3 years ago

Sounds promising. Anything to prevent unnecessary chemo is a step in the right direction. Now if there was a vaccine to prevent cancer altogether (or a cure) that would be wonderful.

Marie W.
Marie W.3 years ago

Chemo is worse than cancer in many cases.