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Recent study leads to treatment changes for some breast cancer patients

Ellen Abbott
Upstate Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Abirami Sivapiragasam

Two to three women a week who walk into the Upstate Cancer Center in Syracuse with a diagnosis of hormone driven breast cancer will be affected by news this month that says it’s okay to safely skip chemotherapy in certain cases.  

Upstate Cancer Center oncologist Dr. Abirami Sivapiragasam said some of the longest discussions she has with patients are those diagnosed with early stage hormone driven breast cancer. Those are the in-between cases that don’t involve advanced tumors that clearly require chemotherapy, but not smaller ones where chemo can be safely avoided. 

Those discussions will be considerably shorter from now on, after a major international study released June 3 has determined that many women with early-stage breast cancer, who would normally receive chemotherapy as part of their treatment, don’t need it after all.

“Before we would tell them that it’s totally a gray zone. I cannot say yes to chemo or no to chemo, because we don't know what to go by. So we went by other factors.  But now we are confident, the patients are more confident making decisions so it’s definitely big time practice changes."

Sivapiragasam says the research became part of Upstate’s cancer protocol the day the study was released. 

She said if possible, it’s preferable to avoid chemo because of serious side effects. Patients will continue to receive hormone therapy to keep cancer from returning, and radiation therapy is prescribed in certain cases.

Sivapiragasam notes this doesn’t apply to early cancer diagnoses of women under 50.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.