Rates of breast cancer may be on the rise, but the number of women with the condition who opt for conventional chemotherapy as treatment is reportedly in serious decline.
New research published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute suggests that an increasing number of breast cancer patients are wary of the adverse effects associated with the “slash and burn” protocols pushed by mainstream oncologists. Many of them, it seems, are turning to more natural options instead, hoping for safer and more effective outcomes.
Dr. Steven Katz, a medical doctor and professor of medicine, health management and policy at the University of Michigan, pored over data collected on 5,080 women from Georgia and Los Angeles who were treated for early stage breast cancer between the years of 2013 and 2015. Of these, 2,926 women were diagnosed with stage-1 or -2 breast cancers that were positive for estrogen receptor expression, but negative for human epidermal growth factor receptor-2 expression.
After categorizing the women based on how their cancers affected neighboring lymph nodes, Dr. Katz and his team asked them whether or not their oncologists had recommended chemotherapy as treatment, and whether or not they had agreed to take it. The researchers also surveyed 504 of the women’s oncologists to determine how they came up with recommendations either for or against chemotherapy.
Based on their calculations, the team identified a 38 percent decrease in chemotherapy use from 2013 and 2015 – from 34.5 percent of diagnosed women to just 21.3 percent. During this same time period, recommendations to get chemotherapy from oncologists also dropped from 44.9 to 31.6 percent – a nearly 30 percent decrease.
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Chemotherapy causes more cancer; why would anyone choose to do it?
In patients with no lymph node involvement, chemotherapy use dropped from 26.6 percent to 14.1 percent. And in patients with lymph node involvement, a decline was seen from 81.1 percent to 64.2 percent.
For women with lymph node-positive diagnoses who rejected their doctors’ advice to undergo chemotherapy, 67.4 percent of oncologists surveyed indicated that they would order tumor genomic testing to determine their risk of cancer recurrence. In contrast, only 17.5 percent said they would order the test if both patient and doctor agreed about undergoing chemotherapy.
“For patients with early stage breast cancer, we’ve seen a significant decline in chemotherapy use over the last few years without a real change in evidence,” stated Dr. Allison Kurian, M.D., associate professor of medicine and health research and policy at Stanford University, about the findings.
“This likely reflects a change in the culture of how physicians are practicing, and a move toward using tumor biology to guide treatment choices rather than solely relying on clinical measures.”
Two of the biggest concerns today with regards to cancer are false diagnoses and overtreatment. What breast cancer patient would want to needlessly subject herself to drastic interventions that will destroy her immune system, cause her to lose her hair, and even increase her risk of developing more cancer?
Recognizing the many risks associated with conventional cancer treatments, many patients and doctors alike are moving in new directions that offer more benefits with less risk. Where they’re going and what they’re doing instead is outside the scope of this particular study, but one thing’s for sure: The probable harm incurred from chemotherapy is demonstrably greater than any possible gain.
“We believe this study indicates that physicians are attempting to be more selective in their recommendations and to spare patients toxicity when possible,” Dr. Kurian added.
“As personalized medicine becomes more widely available, doctors are using test results as part of their dialogue with patients about their preferences and overall treatment goals. But the long-term outcomes of these recent changes in chemotherapy use are uncertain.”
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