Not all women with early-stage breast cancer benefit from chemo

(BPT) - As a commercial airline pilot with nearly 30 years of experience, Diane Sandoval, 50, is no stranger to making difficult decisions. However, she faced one of her toughest challenges not in the skies, but when she discovered a small lump in her left breast during a self-examination. Her worst fear was confirmed after a visit to her doctor when she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

Following an inconclusive mammogram and ultrasound, Sandoval learned she had several small tumors. She underwent a mastectomy to remove the tumors followed by breast reconstruction, putting her piloting career on pause.

The next big question was whether she should receive chemotherapy or not. Her physician recommended a genomic test — the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test. This tool has been proven to determine whether chemotherapy will be beneficial for individuals recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. The test provides a personalized score based on the biology of the patient’s tumor that can help tailor treatment decisions for their individual cancer. Recent results from the largest breast cancer study ever conducted, called TAILORx, confirmed that the test clearly identified the 70 percent of women with early-stage breast cancer who receive no benefit from chemotherapy, as well as the remaining 30 percent of women for whom chemotherapy can be life-saving.

Sandoval is one of the nearly 1 million women who has put chemotherapy to the test with this genomic test. Her score confirmed that her risk of experiencing a breast cancer recurrence was low and she would not benefit from chemotherapy. As a result, she felt confident that she could forgo chemotherapy and its associated side effects. Subsequently, she was able to resume her career as a pilot and her active lifestyle.

She recently joined a campaign called “Put Chemo to the Test” to raise awareness of the Oncotype DX test and encourage women recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer to ask their doctor to order it before finalizing their treatment plan.

“I hope to help women with early-stage breast cancer better understand their treatment options by raising awareness of this test and how it can determine whether they are part of the majority of patients who may be spared chemotherapy and its well-known side effects or are among the important minority of patients who could receive life-saving benefit from chemotherapy,” said Sandoval.

One in eight U.S. women will develop invasive breast cancer in their lifetime. The treatment of invasive breast cancer should be personalized because what is best for one woman may not be right for another. If you have breast cancer, it's important to take an active role in your health by learning about your available treatment options. An ongoing, collaborative discussion with your doctor is key in determining what treatment option best fits your individual needs. Below are a few questions to ask your doctor:

  • What stage is my breast cancer and what are the chances of my cancer recurring (coming back) after surgery?
  • Can you order the Oncotype DX test to determine if I will benefit from chemotherapy?
  • What are my treatment options? What do you suggest for me and why?
  • What are the benefits of each treatment option? What are the drawbacks/side effects of each one?

Breast cancer patients and caregivers can visit ChemoYesorNo.org to download the full physician discussion guide and learn more about the test.

“I want women who were recently diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer to know that there is no one-size-fits-all treatment approach,” said Sandoval. “The test gave me the confidence I needed to forgo chemotherapy, which has allowed me to continue to enjoy my life with my husband. Ask your doctor to order this genomic test before finalizing your treatment plan.”

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