SAVANNAH, GA (WTOC) - A recent study shows most women with the most common form of early-stage breast cancer can now skip chemotherapy. The study is the largest ever done of breast cancer treatment.
"It's by far the worst part of breast cancer treatment...is having to tell somebody they need chemotherapy," said Dr. William Burak, a breast surgeon at Memorial Health University Medical Center.
The new study, expected to spare up to 70,000 patients in the United States each year and many elsewhere found not all breast cancer patients benefit from chemotherapy treatments.
"In the right patients, it works very well. It's just that not everybody needs it. We had no way of determining who needed it before and now it's a lot more clear," said Dr. Burak.
He says breast cancer patients fall into three categories: Low-risk, which does not require chemo, high-risk - which demands the treatment, and an intermediate category they call "the grey area," where he says this new research now clarifies.
"Now, we actually have a test where you get a score and there's a clear cutoff where you have a high score or low score which will help decide more definitively," he said.
Joyce Williams plays with her five and six-year-old little girls today, a breast cancer survivor. But, she remembers the side effects of chemotherapy like it was yesterday.
"I lost my hair. My fingernails wanted to come off. I lost my taste at some point in time. Towards the end, my eyes would water," she said.
When she was diagnosed, Williams says she fell into that intermediate category. She said, "I was in the grey area. For me and my story, I think I made all of the right decisions at the right point in time."
She says without this new research, all she could do was follow her doctors' recommendations. Williams now watches her two little girls grow up, who have a 50 percent chance of also developing breast cancer later in life.
"God-forbid they have to go through what I have. I want the world of cancer care and cancer to improve drastically before they're adults," she said.
She says she's grateful to be a survivor today, and for research like this to continue for all generations to come.