Published: Tue, June 05, 2018
Medical | By Johnnie Horton

Licking cancer: US postal stamp helped fund key breast study

Licking cancer: US postal stamp helped fund key breast study

Rachel Rawson, of Breast Cancer Care, added: "This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news and could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy".

The majority of women with a common form of breast cancer may be able to skip chemotherapy after surgery, based on their score on a genetic test, researchers said Sunday. The study was sponsored by the National Cancer Institute and led by the ECOG-ACRIN Cancer Research Group.

Simon Vincent, director of research at Breast Cancer Now, told The Guardian: "This is a remarkable and extremely promising result, but we need to see this effect repeated in other patients before giving hope of a new immunotherapy for incurable metastatic breast cancer". About 50 percent of all women diagnosed worldwide have hormone-receptor positive, HER2-negative, node-negative cancer. Indeed, a genetic test can be done at the time of the operation to predict the risk of recurrence. Oncotype DX costs around $4,000, which Medicare and many insurers cover.

Dr. Albain, the Huizenga Family Endowed Chair in Oncology Research at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, has conducted research with the 21-gene test and also used it in her practice for years. "So we have two yes-no answers for each gene". For women aged under 50 with scores of 16-25, there was some benefit in getting chemotherapy, but for those aged over 50 with scores under 25, or those aged under 50 and scores below 16, there was nothing to be gained from going through the draining process. The new "Right to Try" law, signed by President Donald Trump last week, allows terminally ill patients to try experimental drugs outside of standard clinical trials, without needing FDA approval and as long as drug companies are willing to provide them.

"It's a hard enough time for a woman, and they look at you and say, 'I want to do what you think is best, ' and you have to say, 'Unfortunately, you're in a group where there's uncertainty, ' " Albain said. Protectively, many of those women have received chemotherapy, which can have devastating side effects, including anemia, a weakened immune system, hair loss, diarrhea, fatigue and memory loss.

It enrolled 10,273 United States women with HR+HER2-AN- breast cancer, which accounts for 23,000 of the 55,000 diagnoses in the United Kingdom each year.

Thousands of women now have that option thanks to a recent study revealing chemo isn't the only way to go.

The study's primary funding came from the U.S. National Institutes of Health.

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Patients were randomly assigned to receive hormone therapy or chemotherapy, followed by hormone therapy.

The team of doctors complemented the cell treatment with "a range of new immunotherapy drugs called "checkpoint inhibitors", Sky News reports, "designed to overcome a cancer's ability to shield itself from the immune system".

Thirty percent of the women in the trial did have evidence of cancer hiding in their bodies. For these women, the use of both hormones and chemotherapy is recommended.

"We'll give women in this group about six months of chemotherapy", Brawley said.

But there is a note of caution in interpreting the study's findings.

"Chemotherapy is an absolute cornerstone of breast cancer treatment, but with the side-effects being nearly unbearable for some we must ensure it is only given to those that will benefit from it".

Steven Rosenberg, who is leading the ongoing clinical trial, suggests this is an exciting early result, highlighting that this kind of treatment is not cancer-type specific but can be applied to a broad variety of different cancers. "Updated results for patients with a low recurrence score of 10 or less, who were previously reported as having a 1% distant recurrence rate at 5 years in our trial, now indicate a 9-year rate of distant recurrence of approximately 3%", the authors add.

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