Many women with early breast cancers could avoid chemotherapy

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- New research finds about half of women with early-stage breast cancer who would have previously had chemo could skip it.
The study looked at a test called MammaPrint that can show whether a woman is at high or low risk of cancer recurring. One prominent Kansas Citian is glad she had the test.

The mammogram last December showed one spot. Further testing showed there were really two. Then a biopsy told Bridgette Williams those spots were cancer.

"My thought was I'm in for a rough ride. I'm gonna have to have chemo. I'm gonna lose all my hair," Williams said.

Only she didn't. The deputy director of the Heavy Constructors Association and chair of the Kansas City Economic Development Corporation developed a treatment plan with Dr. Tim Pluard of Saint Luke's Cancer Institute. They got help from MammaPrint. A sample of the tumor was sent to a lab.

"Where they look at 70 genes within that tumor and are able to categorize that into either a low risk or a high risk,"  Dr. Pluard said.

MammaPrint showed Williams's cancer was low risk for recurrence. She chose to have only a lumpectomy and radiation. No chemo.

"If you don't have to, why would you? Why would you put those types of chemicals and things in your body?" she said.

The new study included thousands of women who had a high risk of recurrence based on clinical features, but low risk based on MammaPrint results. Some received chemo. Some did not.

After five years, 94.4-percent of the women who didn't have chemo had no recurrence compared to 95.9-percent of those who did.

"It says that for many women, that there's likely not to be a benefit from chemotherapy," Dr. Pluard said.

Researchers say close to 50 percent of women with early stage breast cancers that appear to be high-risk clinically could avoid chemo. Dr. Pluard says it comes down to the patient's comfort level. Williams has no regrets.

"I have to keep telling myself it's only been eight months," she said.

She says avoiding chemo meant a much quicker recovery and return to work.

The study is in the New England Journal of Medicine. Dr. Pluard cautions that the study only followed women for five years, and it will be important to see how those who had chemo and those who didn't compare at 10 years.