On the heels of the latest recommendations by the American Society of Clinical Oncologists Dr. Uchenna Njiaju couldn’t be more thrilled with the new guidelines on breast cancer treatment for certain patients that she can begin using right now.
Based on the results of a genetic test, now many women with estrogen fueled breast cancer that hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes can safely be spared chemotherapy.
Dr. Njiaju says, “It is important to have that discussion with your doctor. We know from the trial that age matters, so even though it (the new findings) may apply to a sixty year old, in a certain situation it is possible it may not apply so well to a thirty five year old.”
The Oncotype DX genetic test has been effectively used for years for women in the low or high risk categories. Women on the low end of the test knew they skip chemotherapy, and women on the high end knew it would be beneficial.
Dr. Njiaju says, “The intermediate risk group has been the problem for the longest time, we have not known how to best manage these women. Now we know, based on this trial that these people actually do not need chemotherapy, so this is huge.”
Dr. Njiaju also emphasizes that chemotherapy in the appropriate cases can still be a life saving treatment. The most well known side effects of chemotherapy are hair loss fatigue and nausea, but there are other significant risk factors.
“There is risk of infection, risk of ending up in hospital for one problem or another, muscle aches and pains, these can all happen. Long term we worry about things like nerve damage that can persist or can be permanent, we also worry about heart affects and we worrying about the small risk of other cancers like leukemias.”
Dr. Njiaju tells me this was the largest study of women with estrogen fed breast cancer that hasn’t spread to their lymph nodes, which is the most common form of early stage breast cancer diagnosed.
Dr. Njiaju says the results have been a long time coming. “I heard of this study for the first time in 2006 when it was been designed. It’s an old study that has been going on for a long time, and for a long time we have been waiting for the results. To the over 10,000 women who volunteered for the study, we’re very grateful.”