New ‘gentle’ therapy for breast cancer is saving more lives
Doctors are starting to adopt a ‘less is more’ strategy when it comes to treating breast cancer. Chemotherapy, radiation and invasive surgery are being abandoned for gentler approaches that have better cure rates.
Leading the way are oncologists at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance (SCCA), who have put together a new blueprint for breast cancer treatment that other doctors are beginning to follow.
Basing their new approach on the latest evidence, the SCCA method is foregoing chemotherapy for a less toxic alternative called targeted drug therapy. Up to 50 per cent of women are expected to benefit from the therapy.
Chemotherapy drugs are also being abandoned for women with so-called ‘triple negative’ breast cancer, which doesn’t respond to hormonal therapies. Instead, the SCCA programme uses a more benign drug family, the PARP inhibitors. The drugs can also be used on women whose cancer has been discovered late, and for whom chemotherapy was once the only option.
High-dose radiation is also a thing of the past for the SCCA team, who instead are using a technique known as accelerated partial breast irradiation. This is being offered to women who have had a second lumpectomy.
Conservative surgery is also being used. Instead of full breast and lymph node removal, SCCA surgery removes as few lymph nodes as possible, and also retains the nipples.
Finally, standard mammography is being abandoned for ultrasound, especially for women under the age of 40. For others, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is favoured over mammograms, which expose the woman to high doses of radiation.