By Todd Ackerman
Likely because of their doctors’ ignorance, many women with a particularly aggressive and lethal kind of breast cancer don’t receive the full treatment most likely to beat the disease, according to a Houston study.
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center researchers are reporting that one in three patients with inflammatory breast cancer don’t receive chemotherapy, surgery and radiation, the treatment recommended by national advisory groups.
This variety of breast cancer is rare enough that it’s typically unrecognized by patients and often misdiagnosed by doctors.
“These numbers are kind of shocking,” said Dr. Naoto Ueno, executive director of M.D. Anderson’s Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Program and one of the study’s authors. “The treatment’s a no-brainer. It’s standard care, nothing new.”
Ueno said the study underscores the need for women with inflammatory breast cancer to be treated at a large cancer center. “If they go to places without the specialized expertise, they’re risking their lives,” he said.
M.D. Anderson’s treatment and research program was the world’s first devoted specifically to inflammatory breast cancer, named for its characteristic red inflammation in the breast and caused by microscopic tumor cells that clog lymph vessels.
M.D. Anderson launched the program in 2006, an effort to make expert care available to as many patients as possible and to provide a more sizable patient population for research.
Doctors at the clinic treat roughly 100 inflammatory breast cancer patients a year, up from the 25 to 30 they saw before the program’s inception.
Though the disease type accounts for no more than 4 percent of breast cancers, it is particularly lethal.
It kills from 45 to 60 percent of patients within five years and represents about 10 percent of the nearly 39,500 annual deaths from breast cancer.
Patients receiving all three therapies had the best survival rates, the study found; 55 percent were still alive five years after treatment.