More cancers being treated without chemotherapy

Specialists can analyze tumors and see which patients might respond well to less toxic targeted therapies than chemotherapy.

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. – For decades, a diagnosis of cancer has meant treatment with chemotherapy, which can bring with it a host of challenging side effects. But in recent years, more patients are being spared chemo in favor of less toxic options.

As a mammography technician, Jennifer Sternberg is no stranger to breast cancer, she just never imagined she’d be facing the disease at the age of 35.

“I thought I felt something in my breast a lump in the shower and I got an order from my doctor to have a mammogram done,” Sternberg said.

She was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer.

“When I first started practice as a breast cancer physician almost everybody with early stage breast cancer got chemotherapy but we knew the vast majority of patients who got chemotherapy probably didn’t need it but we really couldn’t pick and choose who needed it and who didn’t need it,” said Dr. Thomas Samuel, an oncologist with Cleveland Clinic Weston.

Samuel said genetic testing has changed all that, becoming a big catalyst in the move away from blanketed chemotherapy.

Specialists can analyze tumors and see which patients might respond well to less toxic targeted therapies.

“What ends up happening is that there are patients who are so low risk that those extended therapies, including hormonal therapies, can be shortened because they have low-risk disease,” Samuel said.

Some patients, like Sternberg, are able to avoid systemic treatment altogether.

Following surgery she underwent a few weeks of radiation therapy and is excited about one day soon, starting a family.

“I’m feeling really good, I finished a few months ago and I just got married and things are going great,” Sternberg said.

Targeted chemo-free therapies are proving effective not only for breast cancer patients but lung cancer patients as well, reducing toxic side effects while at the same time increasing survival rates.

About the Authors:

Veteran journalist Kathleen Corso is the special projects producer for Local 10 News.

Kristi Krueger has built a solid reputation as an award-winning medical reporter and effervescent anchor. She joined Local 10 in August 1993. After many years co-anchoring the 6 p.m. and 11 p.m., Kristi now co-anchors the noon newscasts, giving her more time in the evening with her family.