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New Research Shows Doctors Might Be Able to Determine Aggressiveness of Breast Cancer at the Time of Diagnosis

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breast cancer treatmentThe rate of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year is staggering. In fact, one in eight American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. 

The best way to improve the odds of beating breast cancer is catching it early, or at least that has been the thinking for years. But now, studies are showing that some smaller, early tumors aren’t actually as dangerous as previously thought.

Yes, the tumor still needs to be removed at the earliest possible convenience, but often times that will be the only necessary treatment. That means no cancer radiation therapy, no tiring trips to the chemotherapy facility, and thus fewer nasty side effects. 

But how do you tell when removal is the only breast cancer treatment you need, versus when you need the full cancer care regimen? Until recently, there were few promising options.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology, it could be as simple as a single test, called the MammaPrint.

The study’s researchers in both the U.S. and Sweden found that they can use genomic imaging to understand which tumors are “ultralow-risk” tumors from those that are likely to be malignant and spread.

That means the MammaPrint could not only lead to more effective breast cancer treatments, but also cut down on the number of unnecessary treatments.

“You can really say to someone, ‘You’re not going to die of this disease. And we don’t have to be aggressive upfront and treat you with everything, just in case,’” Dr. Laura Esserman, a University of California, San Franciso, breast cancer specialist and surgeon and lead author of the study, told NPR. “There are breast cancers that pose little or no systemic risk.”

While previous tests have shown that women with a specific genetic profile could skip chemotherapy with little consequence, Esserman says that her study is the first to show that a diagnostic test at the time of diagnoses could identify those who might not need more invasive breast cancer treatment. 

This type of testing is likely a ways off before it becomes standard at cancer centers around the country. Still, it is important to acknowledge the great strides being made in combating this lethal disease.

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