A New Twist in Breast Cancer Treatment Options: Skipping the Chemo

Forgoing chemotherapy is a new breast cancer treatment option that’s causing quite a stir.

Last month, researchers reported that the majority of women with early stage invasive breast cancer could skip chemotherapy. The study, published June 3 in the New England Journal of Medicine, reported that women could opt out of chemo if they are at a medium to low risk for recurrence of breast cancer. Instead, they could choose hormone therapy after surgery.

This new breast cancer treatment option is huge, given the decades of reliance on chemotherapy.

Not to mention that the majority of women will now skip chemo’s often debilitating side-effects, such as nausea, fatigue and hair loss.

A breast cancer treatment plans depend on several factors; all are personalized to the patient.

  • The type of breast cancer
  • The size of the tumor
  • How far the cancer has spread (this is called the stage of the disease)
  • The presence of known mutations in inherited breast cancer genes, such as BRCA1 or BRCA2
  • If the tumor has “receptors” for HER2 protein, estrogen, and progesterone or other features.

Some tumors are small but can grow fast, and others are larger but grow slowly—this is another factor in treatment.

Some treatments remove or destroy the disease within the breast and nearby tissues, such as lymph nodes. These include:

  • Mastectomy surgery to remove the whole breast.
  • Lumpectomy surgery to remove just the tumor and tissues around it.
  • Radiation therapy that kills cancer cells with high-energy waves.

Other treatments destroy or control cancer cells all over the body:

  • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.
  • Hormone therapy uses drugs to prevent hormones (especially estrogen) from supporting the growth of breast cancer cells.
  • Targeted therapy medicines prompt the body’s immune system to destroy cancer. They target breast cancer cells that have high levels of a protein called HER2.  

Bottom line: this new breast cancer treatment option is a positive step forward. Even so, breast cancer is a highly individualized disease that requires a customized treatment approach for each woman. A cancer specialist is the best source for learning about treatment options.

More Resources:, “Breast Cancer Treatment”

Washington Post, “Most Women with a Common Type of Early-Stage Breast Cancer Can Skip Chemo, a New Report Finds”

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