Health Headlines: Treating breast cancer with fewer side effects

Published: Nov. 10, 2022 at 8:33 AM CST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Lake Charles, LA (KPLC) - While radiation and removing cancerous lymph nodes help keep breast cancer from coming back, researchers are now studying if they can cut back on certain treatments to reduce side effects while still having the desired effect.

Treatments like chemo, surgery, and other advances have contributed to a 43% reduction in breast cancer deaths over the past 30 years.

But Dr. Adrian Lee with UPMC Hillman Cancer Center says their new research is focused on the patient’s quality of life during treatment, “And so, through those advances, we’re doing better with outcomes, but now, we’re trying to make sure that we give the right treatment to the right patient.”

Dr. Lee and his colleagues studied data from women over 70 that had ER positive, HER-2 negative cancer. The researchers focused on radiotherapy and sentinel lymph node biopsy, two treatments that can have significant side effects.

“With sentinel lymph node biopsy, you have a risk of lymphedema, which many men and women suffer from with swollen arms.”

And radiotherapy, which is designed to kill remaining cancer cells, can cause nerve pain and skin irritation.

Researchers used an advanced computer program and determined that the rates of recurrence were the same, whether women had sentinel lymph node biopsy and radiotherapy or not. That suggests that those treatments can be reduced or eliminated in some patients.

“So, if we can reduce that and reduce the use of that safely in cancers where we know that they’re unlikely to recur, then, that’s good for everyone.”

Now, scientists want to know if patients between the ages of 50 and 70 could also do better with less treatment.

The pros and cons of aggressive treatment have been a topic for doctors and patients since 2016. That’s when the American Society of Breast Surgeons recommended surgeons and patients have frank discussions about the benefits and risks.