One in eight women in the U.S. will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Many will be surprised to learn that age is a major barrier when it comes to patients accessing the information they need to make a better-informed treatment decision.
Age shouldn’t affect your chances of getting the right breast cancer treatment, yet an analysis from the National Cancer Institute revealed that patients under the age of 40 and over 70 are far less likely to get a genomic test called the Oncotype DX Breast Recurrence Score test compared to patients 40-70 years old.
This is a concerning reality since, based on research from more than 100,000 patients, Oncotype DX definitively identifies the vast majority of women with early-stage breast cancer who receive no benefit from chemotherapy, and the important minority of women for whom chemotherapy can be life-saving. The test provides patients with a personalized score based on the biology of their tumor that can help tailor treatment decisions for their individual cancer.
Younger and older women face different kinds of challenges when diagnosed with breast cancer, however, assumptions about cancer and a patient’s age can make it hard for both groups of women to access the information they need to make an informed treatment decision. Take it from breast cancer survivors Amanda Nixon and Bunny Lenhard, who embarked on different treatment journeys based on their age.
Nixon was 27 years old when she was diagnosed with rare inflammatory breast cancer. While Nixon’s doctor wanted to treat her cancer aggressively due to her age, there was no additional information disclosed regarding other treatment options, like genomic testing.
“At the time of my diagnosis, I didn’t feel like I was a partner with my doctor and I didn’t realize I could ask questions about my treatment options,” said Nixon. “I would have appreciated knowing more about my options, even if it would have been a lot of information to handle.”
In contrast, Lenhard was able to look at various treatment options through an open dialogue with her doctor when she was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer at 75 years old. Lenhard was convinced she would need chemotherapy and was surprised when her doctor recommended taking the Oncotype DX test to determine if chemo was necessary. Lenhard’s Recurrence Score was 20, which meant she would not benefit from chemotherapy. In talking with her doctor, Lenhard decided to forgo chemotherapy and receive radiation instead. For Lenhard, this access to information enabled her to develop a comprehensive and personalized treatment plan.
“Age is just a number, and it should not affect your options when it comes to your breast cancer treatment,” said Lenhard. “Ask your doctor about every possible option and then work together as a team to make the best treatment decision for you, regardless of your age.”
Breast cancer treatment today is no longer a “one size fits all” approach. What is best for one woman may not be right for another. To address this need, the No Matter My Age campaign encourages all breast cancer patients to ask their doctors about accessing the information they need to make the right treatment decision, no matter their age. Visit NoMatterMyAge.org to learn more about how a genomic test can help you better understand and personalize your treatment options.
Educating women about genomic testing could help spare hundreds of thousands from unnecessary chemotherapy, while ensuring that those who may receive life-saving benefit from the treatment receive it.