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Test to spare women chemotherapy misery

Thousands of women with breast cancer could be spared the misery of chemotherapy -- thanks to pioneering work carried out in Llanelli and Swansea. Health regulators have approved a new test which could help decide whether women with early breast cancer need the treatment following surgery.

It would help them avoid the gruelling side effects including nausea, insomnia, hair loss and fatigue. And ITV News has learned that the fresh approach could save the embattled health service up to £10,000 a patient. Megan Boot reports.

'It's the chemo that makes you unwell' says cancer patient

Cath Jones, from Caerphilly, was diagnosed with breast cancer in January this year. She had a lumpectomy in February and her course of chemotherapy started in March.

She told ITV News that she's glad she had the treatment, but if the 'Oncotype DX' test had been available, she would've "grabbed it with both hands."

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Breast cancer: the facts

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women in England and Wales and also the second largest cause of cancer death in women after lung cancer.

  • the biggest risk factor, after gender, is increasing age - approximately 81% of breast cancers occur in women over 50
  • more people are being diagnosed with cancer but survival rates are improving
  • breast cancer also affects men, but is rare - around 400 men are diagnosed each year.

In Wales:

  • just over 2,600 women and around 15 men are diagnosed with breast cancer each year
  • breast cancer is the most common cancer in women
  • there were 627 deaths from breast cancer in 2008.

In the UK:

  • around 55,000 people are diagnosed with breast cancer each year in the UK. That's one person every 10 minutes
  • just under 12,000 people die from breast cancer in the UK every year
  • there are an estimated 550.000 people living in the UK today who have had a diagnosis of breast cancer.

Test will have 'major impact' on breast cancer patients

The test is being developed at Llanelli's Prince Phillip Hospital with the help of Singleton Oncology and the University of Swansea.

During recent trials, nearly half of patients who were initially recommended for chemotherapy and endocrine therapy, had their treatment changed to endocrine therapy alone.

This test will have a major impact on the lives of many women, allowing them to get on with their lives following breast cancer surgery rather than having to go through four months of chemotherapy."

– Simon Holt, Consultant Surgical Oncologist Hywel Dda Health Board

The 'Oncotype DX' test, which is only for women with early breast cancer, will give clinicians a clearer idea of the risk and benefit of chemotherapy.

Test to determine whether chemotherapy is necessary for breast cancer patients

Thousands of breast cancer patients could avoid gruelling chemotherapy thanks to research carried out by a Welsh surgeon.

Simon Holt, a breast surgeon at Hywel Dda Local Health Board, led a study into a new test to help determine whether a breast cancer patient needs to have the treatment.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has approved the 'Oncotype DX' test, which is used in people with certain types of genes and who are assessed as being at intermediate risk of their cancer spreading.

The test measures the presence of biological characteristics in the tumour which may show how likely it is to grow and whether it is likely to spread. Combined with other clinical information, the test will help determine which patients are most suitable for chemotherapy.

Health board responds to Ombudsman's report

Hywel Dda Health Board has responded to the findings set out in a report by the Public Services Ombudsman following a complaint from a woman regarding the treatment her late father received at Aberystwyth's Bronglais Hospital in December 2008.

The care offered to this patient fell below the standards expected and I would therefore like to apologise to the family again on behalf of the Health Board. We fully accept the findings of the report and have undertaken immediate action to avoid such a situation from happening again.

Since 2008, when this incident occurred, we have put in place numerous measures, including extra training for nurses in diabetes care and a review of the blood monitoring equipment.

We are committed to on-going improvements, specifically for the growing number of patients living with chronic conditions.

– Caroline Oakley, Director of Nursing and Midwifery

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