Avoiding Chemo: Is There A Way To Weigh The Odds?

Chemotherapy is a lifesaver for many. However, it is also a damaging and exhausting procedure that costs a lot of money. Because it's based on the principle of poisoning the remaining cancer cells, the body of the patient is poisoned too, leading to sickness, hair loss and a number of other debilitating effects. Therefore, it is imperative that doctors identify patients who can skip this stage of treatment without significantly increasing their risk profile and supply alternate treatments.

In one particularly common form of breast cancer, anti-hormone treatments produce good results in conjunction with standard surgery. A study of patients who underwent this treatment has demonstrated that a straightforward genetic test can indicate very precisely which of the women would benefit from chemotherapy and which could confidently forgo the treatment.


Oncotype DX is a test that analyzes 21 genes from a sample removed from the tumor. The 10-year study found that the 16 percent of patients whose test fell into the low-risk category had only a 1 percent resurgence of metastatic breast cancer within five years of surgery. Despite not receiving any chemotherapy, this group is significantly more likely to die of another cancer or cause than see a recurrence of the original cancer.

For patients who test in the low risk category with a score of under 18 on the recurrence scale, this test is a clear winner, allowing them to avoid chemotherapy entirely that costs around $4,000, which is covered by most insurers. Unfortunately, there are a large proportion of results that just aren't that clear cut. The mid-range for test results covers about 70 percent of cases, and study is ongoing to see which, if any, of these patients could also skip the chemo without putting themselves at risk. Finding ways to treat tumors effectively without wasting effort or exposing patients to unnecessary risk is an important part of the fight against cancer.

Learn more about this useful and informative test by checking out this animated video today.

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