San Antonio — A gene test can help doctors determine which breast cancer patients are likely to benefit from chemotherapy, even for those whose tumors are relatively more advanced, researchers reported Thursday.
The finding needs to be confirmed in clinical trials, but experts said the test could already be used to spare some women from the debilitating side effects of cancer drugs.
The research study, among others being presented at the 30th annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, is part of a trend away from one-size-fits-all medicine.
"Each year we get a little closer" to in individualized treatment of breast cancer, said Dr. Eric Winer of Harvard University. "A few years ago, the vast majority of patients got chemotherapy. Now, more and more are asking whether it's really appropriate."
Breast cancer patients typically are treated with surgery, drugs and radiation, and those with more advanced disease almost always receive chemotherapy. Scientists have known for years that most patients don't benefit from the harsh drugs, but they can't predict who will respond.
Dr. Kathy Albain of Loyola University Medical Center presented the findings.
About 180,000 women a year are diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S.
"We need to learn how to better treat those patients," said Albain. "Maybe it's giving them chemo in a different way. But we know the standard chemotherapy isn't helping."
More than 8,500 breast cancer experts from 83 countries are attending the four-day meeting, which concludes on Sunday.