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Study Finds Many Women With Early Breast Cancer May Not Need Chemo

Anyone who has ever been in treatment for cancer can tell you that chemotherapy is very hard on a body. Now new studies are showing that women diagnosed with breast cancer in its earlier stages may be able to skip the harsh chemo treatments.

According to a study presented Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology meeting and published in the New England Journal of Medicine, patients whose cancer has not yet spread to the lymph nodes and who had smaller tumors responded to treatment that included chemo the same as those who received treatment with no chemo, NBC reports.

The study followed 9,717 women between the ages 18 to 75 who were in the early stages of the disease, and where the cancer had not yet spread to any lymph nodes. The study found treatment of chemotherapy in the women who were found to have an intermediate risk of recurrence of the disease made no difference. Previously, women who were found to be at a low risk of recurrence were the only patients who wouldn't receive chemo. Now this study is proving that chemo isn't necessary in women who have an intermediate risk of recurrence.

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“We didn’t know if chemotherapy benefited women in this range," said Dr. Sara Hurvitz, an associate professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, and director of breast medical oncology at the UCLA/Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center told NBC of the intermediate risk group. "The study showed that if you take the group as a whole, there is no difference in the risk of recurrence when you compare chemotherapy to no chemotherapy.”

Credit: iStock / Samara Heisz

Nine years after the study was initiated the percentages of women who are now cancer free are almost the same as those between the groups treated with anti-estrogen medication (83.3%) and those with anti-estrogen plus chemotherapy (84.3%).

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Dr. Jennifer Litton, an oncologist and an associate professor at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center told NBC news this study will have a huge impact on how breast cancer patients are treated.

Chemotheraphy can be incredibly hard on a patient, with weight loss, nausea, headaches, hair loss and a weakened immune system as just some of the side effects, Dr. Litton said.

"We now can identify a larger group of women who can avoid chemotherapy and just give anti-estrogen therapy and get the same results,” she said.

Dr. William Gradishar, a professor of medicine and chief of hematology and oncology at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, told NBC News the impact of this study will be felt far and wide. “This will significantly impact the way we approach things. These kinds of tools allow us to make tailored medicine a reality, allowing us to offer the right therapy for the right patient at the right time.”

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This news can be life changing for some women who had their cancer detected relatively easy and worry about the side effects of chemo.

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