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To Your Health: NLM update Transcript

Breast cancer treatment sans chemotherapy?: 06/11/2018

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Greetings from the National Library of Medicine and MedlinePlus.gov

Regards to all our listeners!

I'm Rob Logan, Ph.D., senior staff, U.S. National Library of Medicine (NLM).

Here is what's new this week in To Your Health, a consumer health-oriented podcast from NLM, that helps you use MedlinePlus to follow up on weekly topics.

Women after age 50 with a midrange or modest risk of breast cancer safely may skip chemotherapy as part of their treatment, suggests a new, comprehensive study recently published in the New England Journal Medicine.

Specifically, the study suggests women at age 50 or older — with a score of lower than 16 on a common tumor test — can skip breast cancer treatments using chemotherapy and instead, opt for endocrine therapy. The test used in the study assesses the activity of 21 genes and predicts a women's risk of recurrence of breast cancer a decade after initial treatment.

The study is based on an assessment of the most common form of breast cancer, which has not spread to the lymph nodes and does not contain a protein called HER2. The study's 30 authors note the findings are based on a comprehensive genetic assessment, which provides unprecedented evidence about the safety of some breast cancer treatments.

The study's authors write (and we quote): 'The results of our trial suggest (that the gene test) may identify up to 85% of women with early breast cancer who can be spared ....chemotherapy, especially those who are older than 50 years of age and have recurrence score of 15 or lower' (end of quote).

The study's lead author told the Washington Post the results suggest about 85,000 American women annually can safely forego chemotherapy in breast cancer treatment.

The study's authors explained to the Post that chemotherapy is sometimes associated with nausea, fatigue, as well as occasional serious complications, such as leukemia and heart failure. The authors added chemotherapy is more clinically invasive than endocrine therapy. Endocrine therapy includes tamoxifen, which is a well-established medication for breast cancer.

Overall, the results are encouraging for thousands of patients and their families as well as provide an example of how medical research sometimes reduces unnecessary medical treatments.

And here's an interesting sidebar; part of the gene assessment at the heart of the current study was funded by special breast cancer postage stamps. Some proceeds from the special stamps went to the National Cancer Institute, which helped fund the cost of the gene assessment tool used in the study.

Essentially, a stamp that costs pennies may save millions in unnecessary medical care and improve the quality of life for thousands of breast cancer patients.

As Mel Allen, the late New York Yankees announcer used to say: 'How about that!'

Meanwhile, the American Cancer Society provides information about breast cancer's early detection within the 'diagnosis and tests' section of MedlinePlus.gov's breast cancer health topic page.

The National Cancer Institute provides an overview of treatments for breast cancer within the 'treatments and therapies' section of MedlinePlus.gov's breast cancer health topic page.

Links to the latest pertinent journal research articles about breast cancer are available in the 'journal articles' section of MedlinePlus.gov's breast cancer health topic page. Links to breast cancer clinical trials that may be occurring in your area also are available in the 'clinical trials' section.

To find MedlinePlus.gov's breast cancer health topic page, please type 'breast cancer' in the search box on MedlinePlus.gov's home page, then, click on 'breast cancer (National Library of Medicine).' MedlinePlus.gov also contains a health topic page on chemotherapy.

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It was nice to be with you. Please join us here next week and here's to your health!