More older women with early stage breast cancer choose chemotherapy, GUMC researchers say

May 14, 2009

Washington, DC -A new study examining treatment decision-making by older women with early stage breast cancer shows that 45 percent of women would choose to get chemotherapy after surgery -- a figure higher than the national average of women getting the additional treatment.

"This was an unexpected finding," says the study's lead investigator, Jeanne Mandelblatt, MD, MPH, associate director for population sciences at GUMC's Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and professor of oncology and medicine at GUMC. "While these numbers are in contrast with the uniformly high use of chemotherapy in younger early-stage breast cancer patients, they suggest that older women are learning more about their disease and may be weighing the risks and benefits more thoroughly."

The study will be presented at the 45th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in Orlando May 29 - June 2.

The women in the study were recruited from 53 treatment centers between 2004 and 2008. All were 65 or older and had invasive, non-metastatic breast cancer. Interviews about preferences and other factors were conducted with 818 volunteer participants and clinical data were gathered from their medical charts.

The women were evaluated in two groups: "chemotherapy indicated" and "consider chemotherapy." The patients in the "indicated" group had cancer characteristics that typically respond to chemotherapy (estrogen-receptor negative and/or node positive). The benefit of chemotherapy for patients in the "consider" group were less clear because of their cancer characteristics (estrogen-receptor positive and node negative). Chemotherapy was "indicated" for 47 percent of the study participants and was "considered" for 53 percent of the women.

Seventy (70) percent of those in the "indicated" group chose to receive chemotherapy compared to 17 percent of those in the "consider" group. Overall, 45 percent of the women say they'd be willing to undergo chemotherapy for an increase of 12 months or less in their life expectancy.

"The observation that patients are more likely to choose chemotherapy when the clinical benefit is greatest but to forego it when the benefit is less clear suggests that women are appropriately judging the benefit-to-risk ratio of chemotherapy, and making the right personal decision for themselves," explains Mandelblatt.

The patients for whom chemotherapy's benefit was less clear were more likely to get the additional treatment when they reported a high level of communication with their doctors.

"Lack of clear evidence and concern about chemotherapy side effects may be reasons for these patterns," explains Mandelblatt, who is also a geriatrician. "Our findings suggest that physicians can enhance the care of older breast cancer patients through assessment of and communication about chemotherapy risks and benefits, and consideration of the women's preferences."

Interestingly, the researchers found that patients who were accompanied to oncology visits were more likely to receive chemotherapy than those attending alone.

Mandelblatt explains, "This result was also unexpected and may be related to several factors -- the influence of family, the presence of social support or a greater need for support, help in recording and processing information, or the influence of a third person on the interaction."

"Relatively little is known about how older women make decisions about commonly recommended chemotherapy. The need to understand patient-decision making is greatest now because the number of older women developing breast cancer is increasing as the Baby Boomer population ages," Mandelblatt concludes.
The study was conducted by researchers in the Cancer and Leukemia Group B (CALGB), an NCI-funded cooperative research group. The study was funded by the NCI and CALGB and a small grant from Amgen Pharmaceuticals for help in patient recruitment. Mandelblatt reports no related financial interests.

About Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center

The Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of Georgetown University Medical Center and Georgetown University Hospital, seeks to improve the diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of cancer through innovative basic and clinical research, patient care, community education and outreach, and the training of cancer specialists of the future. Lombardi is one of only 41 comprehensive cancer centers in the nation, as designated by the National Cancer Institute, and the only one in the Washington, DC, area. For more information, go to

About Georgetown University Medical Center

Georgetown University Medical Center is an internationally recognized academic medical center with a three-part mission of research, teaching and patient care (through Georgetown's affiliation with MedStar Health). GUMC's mission is carried out with a strong emphasis on public service and a dedication to the Catholic, Jesuit principle of cura personalis -- or "care of the whole person." The Medical Center includes the School of Medicine and the School of Nursing and Health Studies, both nationally ranked, the world-renowned Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Biomedical Graduate Research Organization (BGRO), home to 60 percent of the university's sponsored research funding.

Georgetown University Medical Center

Related Chemotherapy Articles from Brightsurf:

Chemotherapy is used to treat less than 25% of people with localized sarcoma
UCLA researchers have found that chemotherapy is not commonly used when treating adults with localized sarcoma, a rare type of cancer of the soft tissues or bone.

Starved cancer cells became more sensitive to chemotherapy
By preventing sugar uptake, researchers succeeded in increasing the cancer cells' sensitivity to chemotherapeutic treatment.

Vitamin D could help mitigate chemotherapy side effects
New findings by University of South Australia researchers reveal that Vitamin D could potentially mitigate chemotherapy-induced gastrointestinal mucositis and provide relief to cancer patients.

Less chemotherapy may have more benefit in rectal cancer
GI Cancers Symposium: Colorado study of 48 patients with locally advanced rectal cancer receiving neoadjuvant chemotherapy, found that patients receiving lower-than-recommended doses in fact saw their tumors shrink more than patients receiving the full dose.

Male fertility after chemotherapy: New questions raised
Professor Delb├Ęs, who specializes in reproductive toxicology, conducted a pilot study in collaboration with oncologists and fertility specialists from the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) on a cohort of 13 patients, all survivors of pediatric leukemia and lymphoma.

'Combo' nanoplatforms for chemotherapy
In a paper to be published in the forthcoming issue in NANO, researchers from Harbin Institute of Technology, China have systematically discussed the recent progresses, current challenges and future perspectives of smart graphene-based nanoplatforms for synergistic tumor therapy and bio-imaging.

Nanotechnology improves chemotherapy delivery
Michigan State University scientists have invented a new way to monitor chemotherapy concentrations, which is more effective in keeping patients' treatments within the crucial therapeutic window.

Novel anti-cancer nanomedicine for efficient chemotherapy
Researchers have developed a new anti-cancer nanomedicine for targeted cancer chemotherapy.

Ending needless chemotherapy for breast cancer
A diagnostic test developed at The University of Queensland might soon determine if a breast cancer patient requires chemotherapy or would receive no benefit from this gruelling treatment.

A homing beacon for chemotherapy drugs
Killing tumor cells while sparing their normal counterparts is a central challenge of cancer chemotherapy.

Read More: Chemotherapy News and Chemotherapy Current Events is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to