Irish Daily Mail

Gene breakthrou­gh to spare thousands of breast cancer patients from chemo

- By Sophie Borland

Chemothera­py causes crippling side-effects

A REVOLUTION in breast cancer treatment will spare thousands of women from the ordeal of chemothera­py, according to scientists carrying out a landmark trial which involves patients undergoing a genetic test shortly after being diagnosed with cancer.

This determines how aggressive the cancer is, whether chemothera­py is needed and if tumours are even likely to respond to the debilitati­ng treatment.

Researcher­s from University College London, who are behind the trial, say the test could allow up to 5,200 patients avoid chemothera­py each year.

Chemothera­py is the mainstay of cancer treatment and it is given to approximat­ely 16,000 breast cancer patients in England every year.

But it causes crippling side-effects, including exhaustion, infections, sickness and hair loss, which are usually far worse than symptoms of cancer itself.

Many patients say they never fully recover and it can lead to heart damage, leukaemia – a type of blood cancer – and in some cases, death.

Researcher­s believe the majority of patients don’t benefit from chemothera­py and would be just as well taking daily oestrogen-reducing tablets, which have far fewer side-effects.

The trial, which was launched in January, is funded by Britain’s National Health Service NHS and is overseen by scientists at UCL, Cambridge University and Warwick University’s Clinical Trials Unit. It involves 4,500 patients. Called Optima, it is the first of its kind to measure how well chemothera­py will work for a patient – or ‘chemothera­py sensitivit­y’.

The early findings will be presented next week at the National Cancer Research Institute’s Conference, the UK’s largest cancer conference.

The test, called Prosigna, is carried out by a machine which measures the activity of 50 genes taken from a small sample of a breast cancer tumour.

Each patient is given a percentage score out of 100 based on how aggressive their cancer is and whether chemothera­py would prove effective. Chemothera­py works by killing fast-growing cells so, in theory, is only worthwhile in patients with aggressive, fast-growing cancers.

The trial will run for six years, during which time researcher­s will compare the survival rates of patients treated with chemothera­py with those only given tablets.

If the test is found to be safe and cost effective – as the researcher­s expect – it will be rolled out across the NHS.

They also calculate it would save the health service £17million (€19million) a year from not administer­ing chemothera­py, which costs an average of £4,000 (€4,500) a course.

Scientists are hoping to make the test even more accurate so it can enable more women avoid chemothera­py.

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