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Oct 20, 2010 4:04 PM by Carina Corral

Breast Cancer Awareness: test can help a woman decide if chemotherapy is needed

For women with early stage breast cancer whether to undergo chemotherapy is rarely an easy decision.

Carina Corral continues her weekly Breast Cancer Awareness series with a look at Oncotype DX, a test that can help some women determine if chemotherapy is the right course of action.

Susan Bakken gave a testimonial for Oncotype DX. When she was first diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, she opted not do to chemotherapy. " I really had convinced myself that radiation would take care of everything."

Many women struggle with this same decision.

Chemotherapy, a cancer fighting drug given intravenously or by mouth, comes with many side effects like hair loss, fatigue and vomiting, and it is not always beneficial.

"When they're faced with decisions about chemotherapy for stage 1 breast cancer they have to decide if the benefit of the chemotherapy outweighs the side effects of it," said Dr. David Palchak of PCR Oncology in Pismo Beach.

Oncotype DX aims to help.

For patients who are estrogen-receptor positive, it tests the tumor's genetic makeup. The test's maker, Genomic Health, said it can determine the likelihood the breast cancer will recur as well as whether the patient will respond to chemotherapy.

Test results are divided into three groups: low risk patients can be spared chemotherapy; high risk means chemotherapy is needed; and then there is the intermediate group, which Dr. Palchak called the 'troublesome group.'

" We don't really know how to treat those women. Those women are actually the subject of the current clinical trial....that trial has been unattractive to my patients because if a woman has an intermediate prognosis based on the Oncotype DX score she's randomly assigned to chemotherapy or not and my patient's have not been open to a random assignment," said Dr. Palchak.

Susan tested in the high risk group and, as a result, decided to go with chemotherapy.

" I absolutely feel the Oncotype DX test saved my life. If I had not known about it, my doctors would have not recommended the chemotherapy," she said.

Both the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network recommend Oncotype DX in helping women to decide whether chemotherapy is right for them; however, some doctors are waiting for more research to show whether the test is really helpful.

Click here to learn more about Oncotype DX.

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