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Buddy Check: Future of cancer treatment

RICHMOND, Va (WTVR)- Hair loss, nausea, and heart problems are just a few of the side effects of chemotherapy.  It’s why cancer patients dread hearing they need the treatment.

But some oncologists are using a test that can determine whether their patients can avoid chemotherapy and survive.

Erin Lyons took the test, which is called Mammaprint, and says her results showed she didn’t need chemotherapy for breast cancer treatment.

Erin was able to get right back into her exercise routine after her treatment ended last year and believes it’s because she didn’t have chemo and go through its toxic side effects.   That was something she says she worried about when she was diagnosed two years ago.

“That was always an anxiety, so when I found out about gene testing of the tumor I was like, ‘wow.’ I didn’t know they had that,” says Erin.

She’s referring to the moment when she first learned about Mammaprint, a genetic test that answers an important question for patients and their doctor: Do I need chemo?

Dr. Jim Pellicane, Director of Breast Oncology for the Bon Secours Cancer Institute says the technology has been around since 2002.  “So we found we were treating a lot of patients with chemo who probably didn’t need it, ” says Pellicane.

Chemotherapy reduces the risk of the cancer coming back and spreading.  But Dr. Pellicane says some patients have a low risk of that happening and the Mammaprint test tells him which ones.

A patient’s tumor is tested for genetic markers that indicate whether there’s a high or low risk of recurrence.   If there’s a high risk, then they’re given chemotherapy.  But if they fall in the low-risk group like Erin, then they may only need a pill that blocks estrogen such as Tamoxifen, for five or ten years.

A five-year prospective study that looked at low-risk patients based on Mammaprint results found 97-percent of them were disease-free five years later, and a group of those patients received no treatment at all. .

“In the old days using old parameters they would have all gotten chemo therapy,” says Dr. Pellicane.

Erin had a mastectomy, is taking Tamoxifen, and is hopeful she’ll have a disease-free future.  “Everything has gone really well,” says Erin.

Dr. Pellicane calls Mammaprint the future of cancer treatment. He says it can lead to a streamlining of who gets screened.  For example, someone may just need a mammogram, while another patient may need an MRI, and yet another may not need screening at all based on their genetic profile.

Dr. Pellicane says this could revolutionize treatment not just for breast cancer, but all cancers.

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