Breast cancer breakthrough means 5,000 women a year will be spared chemotherapy

Experts have hailed a landmark study which could spare up to 5,000 breast cancer patients a year from gruelling chemo.

The research, involving a genetic test already available on the NHS, revealed less than a third of women with the most common form of the disease benefit from the treatment.

It is set to save the NHS millions and one doctor said patients would start benefiting from today.

Specialist Dr Alistair Ring, of Royal Marsden Hospital, London, said it was the biggest development for 20 years and a “step change”.

He told the Daily Mirror: “Chemotherapy will drop. As an oncologist on Monday in the clinic I will offer less chemotherapy that will not be of benefit to patients.”

Charities also hailed the results. Baroness Delyth Morgna, chief executive of Breast Cancer Now, said: “We hope these practice-changing findings will now help refine our use of chemotherapy on the NHS.”

Rachel Rawson, of Breast Cancer Care, added: “This life-changing breakthrough is absolutely wonderful news and could liberate thousands of women from the agony of chemotherapy.”

The TAILORx trial was unveiled at the American Association of Clinical Oncologists in Chicago – the world’s biggest cancer conference.

It enrolled 10,273 US women with HR+HER2-AN- breast cancer, which accounts for 23,000 of the 55,000 diagnoses in the UK each year.

Patients were randomly assigned chemo or alternative treatment and followed for up to nine years.

They were scored using the Oncotype DX genetic test, which assesses how the cancer is likely to respond to treatment.

Those with a recurrence score of up to 10 out of 100 have been shown not to benefit from chemo and those with a score of 26 or higher do benefit. But the benefits were unclear for those who fall between – the vast majority.

The study found over-50s scoring up to 25 did not need chemo, nor did under 50s with a score up to 15.

Instead they could be given standard drugs like tamoxifen.

The test costs £2,500 but the NHS gets it at discount. Chemo typically costs £4,500 per patient.

Lead author Dr Joseph Sparano, of Montefiore Medical Centre in New York, said: ““Any women with early stage breast cancer 75 or younger should have the test and discuss the results of TAILORx with her doctor.”

Chemotherapy can have side effects like hair loss, vomiting and risk of life-threatening infections.

"I got worst hangover and lost my hair"

Juliet FitzPatrick was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the beginning of 2016 after her second routine mammogram.

The mother-of-two was told she would have a lumpectomy and radiotherapy.

After her lumpectomy she was told they hadn’t been able to get clear margins during the surgery. Due to the size and placement of the 7mm tumours she would have to have a mastectomy.

Juliet then went through chemotherapy at a difficult time as her husband of 28 years, Liam, was going through open heart surgery.

The 56-year-old said: “Being told I had to have chemo was a bit of a shock to the system. I really didn’t want to because you hear such horrible things about it.

“I had four treatments three weeks apart so it lasted 12 weeks. You get hooked up to the drugs and they put all this poison in your body.

“After the first treatment I felt completely wiped out, like the worst hangover ever, and it lasted for about a week.

“After my second treatment my hair started to fall out. The day after big tufts started coming out in the shower.

“I got my hair cut short but I was sick of seeing clumps of hair on my clothes so I asked my husband to shave my head.

“He felt quite upset by it and I think that was worse for him than me.

“It’s not just your head though, I had no eyebrows and the hair in your nose falls out. Then my finger nails started to go yellow and fall out.

“I got neuropathy and I started to feel depressed. I was withdrawn and miserable and I didn’t want to see anyone.”

She chose not to have reconstruction, as she didn’t want unnecessary additional operations. Now aged 56 is now considering a mastectomy or reduction on her other side.

The sports administrator from Rickmansworth, Herts, added: “I think this study is great news.

“Women will be spared these miserable months and years and it’s really going to change the way people are treated.

“It will be fantastic if targeted therapies can become the go-to treatment for cancer because chemo is just awful.

“It kills everything.”

"We can avoid treatment that patients fear"

By Alastair Ring, Consultant cancer specialist at Royal Marsden, London

We have been waiting for the results of this test because we know it has the potential to have a huge impact on the day to day care of NHS patients.

It is avoiding a treatment which most patients with cancer fear will happen.

That’s why it’s such a fundamental change and will have a day-to-day impact from day one.

This is about using chemotherapy more intelligently and in a much more focused manner. It is using it as a targeted treatment.

This means 3,000 patients not having six months of day-to-day side effects, long-term side effects, or the costs [to the NHS] of chemotherapy and its delivery.

Believe you me, as someone who gives chemotherapy all the time, this study is a huge deal.

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