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 for women with cancer that was 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 are instead 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 retains the nipples.
Finally, standard mammography is being abandoned in favour of ultrasound, especially for women under age 40. For others, MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) is favoured over mammograms, which expose women to high doses of radiation.
Seattle Cancer Care Alliance website atwww.seattlecca.org