NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


January 4, 2005

A new genetic test can determine whether breast cancer patients need to undergo chemotherapy treatments in addition to other treatments. The test is designed to determine which patients are likely to suffer a recurrence, sparing women with excellent prognoses from undergoing unnecessary and often debilitating chemotherapy treatments.

Dr. Soonmyung Paik of the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project (NSABP) and his research team examined 250 genes that play a role in breast cancer on the tissues samples of 668 patients. The results:

  • Fifty percent of breast cancer patients were considered low-risk and likely didn't need chemotherapy; of those patients, only 6.8 percent suffered a recurrence.
  • Twenty-two percent of patients were considered intermediate risk, and 14.3 percent suffered a recurrence.
  • Twenty-seven percent of patients were in the high-risk category, and 30.5 percent suffered a recurrence.

Chemotherapy is effective for high-risk women, reducing their chance of breast cancer recurrence by 70 percent, but the treatment does not generally benefit low-risk women.

Margaret Kirk of the Y-Me Breast Cancer Association notes that many women face the difficult decision of whether to undergo the rigors of chemotherapy. "If this test can help people make that decision, it could be very useful," she says.

Sources: Rob Stein, "Genetic Test Is Predictor Of Breast Cancer Relapse," Washington Post, December 11, 2004; and Soonmyung Paik, "Multigene Prognostic Test for Women with Nodenegative, Estrogen Receptor-Positive Breast Cancer Treated with Adjuvant Tamoxifen in NSABP Trials," Breast Cancer Update, Vol. 3, Issue 2, 2004.

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