By now you’ll have caught up with the news about the US-led research that has concluded that some women suffering from breast cancer may be able to avoid chemo during their cancer treatment. It’s wonderful news but it’s important to pay attention to that word – SOME. Sorry to be a Debbie Downer, but I promised you the truth at CanDo, so this is the truth.
I’ve been frustrated at the numerous news organisations overstating the numbers of women who will benefit, or assuming the research is relevant to all woman suffering breast cancer. Sadly, this is not the case.
Let me be clear, this is a very exciting development for women who have the specific set of conditions that this research piece identified as receiving no extra benefit from chemotherapy. And no doubt, this finding will lead to further breakthroughs. But please don’t take the headlines at face value. As is always the case, medical research is complex and often difficult to communicate. The reality is amazing, but also nuanced and specific to a type of cancer.
As Dr. Darren Saunders, cancer biologist and senior lecturer for the School of Medicine at the University of NSW explains –
“The subset of breast tumours that form the focus of this study are driven by hormones (oestrogen), do not respond to drugs such as trastuzumab (also known as Herceptin – an engineered antibody that targets HER2), and haven’t yet spread to the lymph nodes. They represent roughly half of the more than 17,000 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed in Australia every year.”
Dr. Saunders goes on to say –
“Poor reporting may have serious consequences for public and scientific communities alike. Some of the reports and headlines on this trial have been a little misleading, feeding on an understandable fear. They could potentially encourage patients to incorrectly avoid or stop treatment – with potentially tragic consequences.”
So it’s not yet time to throw away the idea of chemo. For many of us, it remains an unfortunate but life-saving reality. For some of us, in the very near future, it may be removed from the treatment protocol, but…we’re not quite there yet. There are a lot of hurdles to be jumped before any new medical recommendation becomes advised for patient care. No one wants to put women through chemo unnecessarily, so as soon as it can be done away with, I have no doubt it will be.
So stay tuned. Thanks to modern research techniques, we really are on the verge of great progress.
Special thanks for Dr. Saunders for allowing CanDo to reference his published article.