Breast Cancer Treatment: How Much is Too Much?


PITTSBURGH, Pa. (Ivanhoe Newswire) – When a woman is facing breast cancer, treatments like radiation and the removal of potentially cancerous lymph nodes are designed to stop cancer from coming back. But now, researchers are studying the benefits of cutting back on certain treatments for some patients. Breast Cancer Treatment

Chemo, radiation, surgery, and new advances in breast cancer treatment – they’ve contributed to a 43 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths over the past 30 years.

UPMC researcher, Adrian Lee, PhD, says, “Through those advances, we’re doing better with outcomes, but now, we’re trying to make sure that we give the right treatment to the right patient.”

(Read Full Interview)

Lee and his colleagues studied data from women over 70 with ER positive, HER2 negative cancer. The researchers focused on radiotherapy and sentinel lymph node biopsytwo treatments that can have significant side effects.

“With sentinel lymph node biopsy, you have a risk of lymphedema, which many men and women suffer from with swollen arms,” Lee explains.

And radiotherapy, which is designed to kill remaining cancer cells, can cause nerve pain and skin irritation. Researchers used an advanced computer program and determined that the rates of recurrence were the same, whether women had sentinel lymph node biopsy and radiotherapy or not, suggesting that those treatments can be reduced or eliminated in some patients.

“So, if we can reduce that and reduce the use of that safely in cancers where we know that they’re unlikely to recur, then, that’s good for everyone,” Lee adds.

Lee and his colleagues initially studied de-identified data from women over age 70, because clinical trials don’t often include women in this age category. The pros and cons of aggressive treatment have been a topic for doctors and patients since 2016. That’s when The American Society of Breast Surgeons recommended surgeons and patients have frank discussions about the both the benefits and risks.

Contributors to this news report include: Cyndy McGrath, Producer; Kirk Manson, Videographer; Roque Correa, Editor.

To receive a free weekly e-mail on medical breakthroughs from Ivanhoe, sign up at:





REPORT:       MB #5138

BACKGROUND: Breast cancer is a disease in which cells in the breast grow out of control. There are different kinds of breast cancer. The kind of breast cancer depends on which cells in the breast turn into cancer. About 287,850 new cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in women. About 43,250 women will die from breast cancer. Breast cancer mainly occurs in middle-aged and older women. The median age at the time of breast cancer diagnosis is 62. This means half of the women who developed breast cancer are 62 years of age or younger when they are diagnosed. A very small number of women diagnosed with breast cancer are younger than 45.


DIAGNOSING: The most common symptom of breast cancer is a new lump or mass (although most breast lumps are not cancer). A painless, hard mass that has irregular edges is more likely to be cancer, but breast cancers can be also soft, round, tender, or even painful. Other possible symptoms of breast cancer include swelling of all or part of a breast, skin dimpling, breast or nipple pain, nipple retraction, nipple discharge, and/or swollen lymph nodes under the arm or near the collar bone.


NEW TECHNOLOGY: Trastuzumab and pertuzumab together can be used in combination with chemotherapy to prevent relapse in people with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer. Both are also used together in metastatic disease, where they delay progression and improve overall survival. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) has been approved to be used to prevent a relapse in patients with early-stage HER2-positive breast cancer. Pertuzumab (Perjeta) is used to treat metastatic HER2-positive breast cancer, and also used as both neoadjuvant and adjuvant therapy.



Cyndy Patton

(412) 415-6085

If this story or any other Ivanhoe story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at

Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Adrian Lee, PhD, director of the UPMC-Pitt Institute of Precision Medicine and Professor

Read the entire Q&A