DALLAS -- When Dorothy Trimble was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, chemotherapy was a given.
"The worst part is when you lose your hair," Trimble said. "You know, everybody says your hair is your crown, that was mine. When I would go to the mirror and I would scratch it a little bit and hair would come out. I was like, 'Oh my God.'"
Now, gene-profiling tests are helping decide which patients benefit from chemo. The MammaPrint test, for example, analyzes more than 70 genes.
"It allows the clinician and the patient to make a more solid decision about whether to proceed with chemotherapy or not," said Dr. Alison Laidley, a breast surgeon with Texas Oncology and Texas Breast Specialists in Dallas. "Patients in the low risk group typically do not benefit from chemotherapy and patients in the high risk get more benefit from taking chemotherapy."
A new study printed in the International Journal of Cancer showed the MammaPrint was relatively accurate in predicting cancer patients who might benefit from chemotherapy.
Of the women the MammaPrint test labeled low risk, 85 percent chose not to undergo chemotherapy. Of those women, 97 percent were disease-free after five years. Of the women designated high risk, the 91 percent that underwent chemotherapy were disease-free at five years.
There are other tests on the market also designed to help tailor treatment.
Dr. Laidley called genomic testing a milestone in personalized breast cancer treatment.
"Because there's uncertainty in medicine and uncertainty in decision making," she said. "So some patients might think, 'Oh, I really wonder if I should have done that?' And second guess and have some needling doubt in their minds. And we can resolve that with some of these tests that have more conclusive information."
Dorothy Trimble now faces a second potential cancer scare, but gives thanks that advances in medicine can help tailor treatment to her needs, should she need it.