How some women can avoid chemo during breast cancer treatment

Years ago, women who were diagnosed with breast cancer knew they would almost certainly face radiation or chemotherapy, or a combination of both.

Now, doctors say up to 70 percent of patients may not need to undergo chemotherapy as part of their treatment, depending on their tumor score.

For Nora Delgado, it’s family first, then her yoga practice.

“We go there not for our body, we go for our mind," she said. "It really transforms you from within.”

But when Nora was diagnosed with breast cancer, it turned her world upside down.

“In America, we diagnose 250,000 women with breast cancer every year,” Dr. Alejandra Perez said.

Now, there’s some good news for the thousands of women battling this disease, thanks to the TAILORx trial.

Perez, who works at the University of Miami, said the study enrolled 10,000 women with early-stage breast cancer.

“They’re hormone receptor positive and HER2-negative, and they have no lymph node involvement,” Perez said.

The patients' tumors were tested with the Oncotype DX test to determine the chance of recurrence.

“Based on that recurrence score, you are assigned into a low-risk category, an intermediate group or high-risk,” she said.

The patients that scored in the middle were split into two groups.

“One got hormonal therapy with chemotherapy and the other just got hormonal therapy,” Perez said.

What they found was remarkable.

“If you look at overall survival, it was 98 percent for both groups," Perez said. "That means 70 percent of women, we can avoid chemotherapy.”

Nora’s score revealed she didn’t need chemo.

“I was very, very lucky," Nora said. "I won the lottery on that day.”

She chose to have a double mastectomy and is now on hormone therapy for five years.

“I’m really grateful, happy, content,” Nora said.

And she is finding peace in her life once again.

Perez said this doesn’t apply to all breast cancer patients. She says premenopausal women who scored in the middle may benefit from chemotherapy, so always discuss treatment options with your doctor.

REPORT: MB #4519

BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, but men can get it as well. Breast cancer refers to uncontrolled growth of breast cells. This occurs because of a mutation in the cells that don’t stop dividing. With all those extra cells, they can collect and form a tumor, which can either be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not dangerous to the health, but malignant tumors are different. Malignant tumors could cause cancer if not treated. Over time, cells from the tumor start to spread into tissue making their way to the lymph nodes under the arm. If the cancer gets there, then it can spread to other parts of the body. Symptoms include a breast lump or thickening that feels different, change in the skin over the breast or a newly inverted nipple.

DIAGNOSING: If a lump is found in the breast then doctors would administer a series of tests. A breast exam is used to check for lumps or other symptoms of breast cancer. The most common test for diagnosing breast cancer is a mammogram, which is an X-ray of the breast. Other tests include biopsy, MRI or ultrasound. If something is found in the initial tests, then doctors proceed to give blood tests, a bone scan, a CT scan or a PET scan in order to stage the cancer.

NEW RESEARCH: Most patients undergo surgery after being diagnosed. From there, the options are radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted cell therapy. While these options help, the side effects include hair loss, risk of infection, vomiting, fatigue, and swollen breast tissue. But in a recent study conducted by the University of Miami, it was discovered that hormone therapy is just as effective. It is usually given before or after the surgery and for about five years after to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back or treat the cancer that has returned. It can reach cancer cells in any part of the body. The treatment is given to patients who are receptor positive, and about two out of three breast cancers are receptor positive. There are many types of hormone therapies such as tamoxifen and toremifene, which block estrogen receptors, and aromatase inhibitors and ovarian suppression, which lower the estrogen. Side effects include mild nausea, bone pain, hot flashes and injection site pain.