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Chemo doesn’t benefit the breast cancer patient (but immunotherapy just might)

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Although chemotherapy is routinely given to treat breast cancer, it doesn’t help up to 70 per cent of patients, a new study has discovered. Women who undergo the traumatic and debilitating treatment were no more likely to be alive five years later than women who instead opt for hormone therapy only. And both groups had a similar risk level of the cancer recurring in those five years.

Researchers from the Albert Einstein Cancer Center assessed the effectiveness of chemotherapy on women with the most common form of breast cancer, known as hormone receptor (HR)-positive, HER-2 negative, axillary lymph node-negative.

They tracked the progress of 10,273 women with the cancer; those at the lowest risk were given hormone therapy only, and those in the higher-risk group were also given chemotherapy.

But those in the intermediate-risk group were randomly given chemotherapy or hormone therapy, and it was the progress of these that were assessed by researchers who are running the TAILORx (Trial Assigning Individualized Options for Treatment) trial.

Even women in the low-risk group who opted to have only hormone therapy also fared better.

A separate trial had better news for breast cancer sufferers, especially those who haven’t been helped by any other treatment. It’s an experimental form of immunotherapy that has already successfully treated melanoma, but researchers from the US’s National Cancer Institute are confident it can also help breast cancer sufferers.

The therapy, known as ACT, or adoptive cell transfer, has been used to treat Judy Perkins, a woman living in Florida who had been given just three months to live. Two years after she had ACT therapy – in which 90 billion immune cells were pumped into her body – she is alive and well and leading an active life.

(Sources: TAILORx study: New Eng Journal of Medicine, 2018; doi: 10.1056/NEJMoa1804710; ACT study: Nature Medicine, 2018; doi: 10.1038/s41591-018-0040-8)

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