Medical Moment: Why doctors are cutting back on some breast cancer treatments

Published: Nov. 30, 2022 at 5:36 PM EST
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(WNDU) - When a woman fights breast cancer, some treatments are designed to stop cancer from coming back.

But now, researchers are studying the benefits of cutting back on certain treatments for some patients.

Between chemo, radiation, surgery, and new advances in breast cancer treatment, there are a lot of options available for patients. They’ve all contributed to a 43 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths over the past 30 years.

“And so, through those advances, we’re doing better with outcomes, but now, we’re trying to make sure that we give the right treatment to the right patient,” said Adrian Lee, PhD, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center.

Adrian Lee and his colleagues studied data from women over 70 with ER-positive, HER-2 negative cancer. The researchers focused on radiotherapy and sentinel lymph node biopsy two treatments that can have significant side effects.

“With sentinel lymph node biopsy, you have a risk of lymphedema, which many men and women suffer from with swollen arms,” Dr. Lee said.

Radiotherapy is designed to kill remaining cancer cells, but it can cause nerve pain and skin irritation. Researchers used an advanced computer program and determined that the rates of recurrence were the same whether women had sentinel lymph node biopsy and radiotherapy or not, suggesting that those treatments can be reduced or eliminated in some patients.

“So, if we can reduce that and reduce the use of that safely in cancers where we know that they’re unlikely to recur, then, that’s good for everyone,” Dr. Lee finished.

Next, these scientists want to know if patients age 50 to 70 could also do better with less treatment.

The pros and cons of aggressive treatment have been a topic for doctors and patients since 2016.

That’s when some experts first started talking openly about the issue.