Chemotherapy is associated with high risks of hair loss, infertility, chronic pain or in some cases, death. However, a ground-breaking new trial in the US has found that some patients could be able to avoid this type of treatment in favour of a safer alternative. The researchers focused on patients who are HER2-negative. They found that some women in the early stages of cancer could be able to use genetic treatment, which is tailored based on each patients own genetics.

The authors added that “the days of uncertainty are over”, as doctors in the near future could be able to advise patients that they don’t need to go through the “agonies of chemotherapy”. Lead author Dr Joseph Sparano from the Albert Einstein Cancer Centre in New York noted: “Our study shows that chemotherapy may be avoided in about 70 per cent of these women when its use is guided by the test, thus limiting chemotherapy to the 30 per cent of women we can predict will benefit from it.”

According to Dr Kathy Albain, co-author of the study from Chicago Strich School of Medicine: “The study should have a huge impact on doctors and patients. Its findings will greatly expand the number of patients who can forgo chemotherapy without compromising their outcomes. We are de-escalating toxic therapy. For countless women and their doctors, the days of uncertainty are over.”

When deciding which women would be able to safely use the new treatment, doctors would need to assess the genetic markers in biopsied tumour cells. The Oncotype DX test would be able to see how active the tumour is and the risk of it spreading and returning When recurrence scored are low, these women can be safely put on the oestrogen blocking therapy. Women with higher scores would benefit from chemotherapy to eliminate residual cancer cells.

Medical researchers and cancer charities have agreed that the findings of the study will have an immediate impact on the decision making of doctors. Rachel Rawson, a clinical nurse specialist with the charity Breast Cancer Care said: “This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news as it could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy. Now we know a greater number of women can safely avoid chemotherapy, it is absolutely vital NICE incorporates this data into its imminent decision on genetic profiling tests.”

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