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New Finding in Breast Cancer Treatment is “Practice-Changing”

Chemotherapy after surgery for a recurrence of breast cancer leads to higher survival rates, and higher rates of disease-free survival. That’s according to a new study by researchers from Allegheny General Hospital and the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project.

An initial diagnosis of breast cancer can lead to either a lumpectomy plus radiation, or a mastectomy. The typical treatment for a recurrence of breast cancer affecting the same area was surgery, without chemotherapy.

“The question that has been poised is, would the addition of chemotherapy at that time offer the patient a better outcome besides just the surgery alone,” asked Dr. Thomas Julian, director of surgical breast oncology for the West Penn Allegheny Health System.

The answer was yes.

“It [the study] pretty well establishes the fact that if you’ve had a breast cancer one time and it returns a second time to that same area, roughly, then you do need to have chemotherapy to have a better outcome,” added Julian.

The study evaluated 162 patients with isolated and local and regional breast cancer recurrence; 85 received chemotherapy, 77 did not. Five-year disease-free survival rates were 69 percent for the women who received the chemotherapy and 57 percent for the women who didn’t. The overall survival rate was 88 percent for women who received chemotherapy and 76 percent for those who didn’t.

The finding was presented at the 2012 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, which wraps up on Saturday. It’s one of the largest gatherings of people working in the field of breast cancer – bringing together between 8,000 and 9,000 professionals.

“It’s a continuing work in progress to treat this disease,” said Julian, “ that’s why we need to be diligent and garner all the support that we can from patients, physicians, pharmaceutical companies, and from the federal government to be able to sponsor trials so we can get the answers to help people.”