Gene Test For Chemo

Eleanor Garrity has a newfound appreciation for life's simple pleasures … like combing her hair.

"I can't imagine the horror of going through the shower having hair falling out. Clumps and clumps of it," Garrity says.

Losing her hair because of chemotherapy was a real threat just a few months ago. Diagnosed with breast cancer, Garrity had a mastectomy. Chemo was then scheduled to ensure the cancer would not return.

"I was afraid if I started to take chemo, it would make me sick," Garrity says.

She was spared thanks to a new genetic test that identifies which genes are turned on or off in a breast tumor.

"The oncotype test is a multi-gene test performed on breast tumor tissue, which can more accurately predict outcome prognosis," says Joseph Sparano, M.D., an oncologist at Montefiore-Einstein Cancer Center in Bronx, N.Y.

The results are a score from zero to 100. At 17 or below, there's a low risk for breast cancer recurrence, so doctors recommend hormone therapy only. A score of 31 or above means chemo should be added. For those in between, the proper therapy is not so clear, which is why Dr. Sparano is leading a nationwide clinical trial.

"If chemo is necessary is there a threshold effect a specific recurrence score at which we begin to see the benefits of chemotherapy," Dr. Sparano says.

"You can see that you fall into the low-risk group," tells Garrity.

That news changed Garrity's life and has her walking on the road to good health.

The oncotype test isn't cheap. It can cost about $4,000, but Medicare is now covering the test and some private insurers are starting to, as well. Previously, doctors determined whether patients would need chemo based on clinical observations like tumor size and grade. The new study will enroll about 10,000 women with breast cancer at more than 900 hospitals.


Helene Guss
Montefiore-Einstein Cancer Center
(718) 904-2555

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