Study finds that many women with early breast cancer can safely skip chemo

Doctors look at breast x-rays.
(Image credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

A new study has found that most women who have early-stage breast cancer might not need to go through chemotherapy, with surgery and hormone therapy being enough.

The study was presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Researchers focused on women with early-stage breast cancer that had not spread and was hormone-positive. For these patients, they typically undergo surgery and then take hormone-blocking drugs, but they are often urged to also go through chemotherapy to kill any cancer cells that remain.

During the study, the largest one ever done on breast cancer, 10,273 patients took a test called Oncotype DX, which uses a biopsy sample to see how cells are growing and how they respond to hormone therapy, in order to estimate the risk the cancer will recur, The Associated Press reports. The 17 percent of women who had high-risk scores were advised to undergo chemotherapy, while the 16 percent of patients with a low-risk score were told they could skip it. The 67 percent of women at intermediate risk were split into two groups, with all of them having surgery and hormone therapy, but one group also going through chemo.

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After nine years, 94 percent of both groups are still alive, and 84 percent are alive without any signs of cancer, showing the chemo didn't change anything. "The impact is tremendous," Dr. Joseph Sparano of Montefiore Medical Center in New York, the study's leader, told AP. The researchers say that the findings do not apply to women who have larger tumors or whose cancer has spread, and they need to conduct studies on those patients.

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