Behind The Latest Breast Cancer Research | On Point

Adine Usher 78 meets with breast cancer study leader Dr. Joseph Sparano at the Montefiore and Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx borough of New York. Usher was one of about 10,000 participants in the

"It's been a 15-year process to develop more precise tests that basically let's us identify who these women who would benefit, and the others who do not and can be spared chemo", says Charles E. Geyer Jr., associate director of clinical research at VCU Massey Cancer Center, and a study author.

"For the entire study population with gene test scores between 11 and 25 - and especially among women aged 50 to 75 - there was no significant difference between the chemotherapy and no chemotherapy groups", said the findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The 16 percent with low-risk scores now know they can skip chemo, based on earlier results from this study. While immune therapy has benefited patients with advanced melanoma, lung and some other malignancies with large numbers of mutations, it generally has not been effective against cancers that start in the linings of organs - called epithelial cancers - and have fewer mutations.

"All cancers have mutations, and that's what we're attacking with this immunotherapy", he said. That means more than 85,000 women a year can safely forgo chemotherapy.

The research is the biggest in all time ever performed for evaluating the breast cancer treatment, and the outcomes are hoping to space up to 70K patients every year in the United States and other elements and spending of the medicines.

The study involved more than 10,000 breast cancer patients from across the country - some of whom were patients at the University of Minnesota. While trying treatment after treatment, she became a breast cancer advocate and went to California for training by Project Lead, a program run by the National Breast Cancer Coalition.

It's hard to find a person who hasn't been affected by cancer in some way, and for those of us who have had the sickness or lost someone to the sickness, it seems that cancer research and treatment moves at a slower-than-molasses pace. "Everybody thinks you have to have chemo to live", she said.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death in women worldwide, causing some 1.7 million new cases annually and over half a million deaths.

"I was a little relieved". She said she felt changes right away.

Melinda Bachini, a former paramedic who lives in Billings, Montana, believes the treatment saved her life. The tests analyze the tumors in search for 21 genes that are associated with a high risk of recurrence. Her hair fell out, she developed an infection and was hospitalized for a low white blood count, "but it was over fairly quickly and I'm really glad I had it". "I'm a firm believer in medical research".

The usual treatment is surgery followed by years of a hormone-blocking drug.

No, but chemotherapy is one of three common treatments used to slow down the progression or kill cancer cells. "For the rest, we use our clinical assessment to decide if they need chemotherapy or not", he added.

"It's one of the first studies we've ever had".

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