Could a test predict if chemo will work?

Genetic testing could help breast cancer patients decide if chemotherapy is worth trying. Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/yongjiet.
Genetic testing could help predict the likelihood of survival following chemotherapy for recently diagnosed breast cancer patients, a new study has found, but experts say the small sample size of the study makes it difficult to judge its significance.

The tests were done on 310 newly diagnosed breast cancer patients at the M. D. Anderson Cancer Centre in the United States between June 2000 to March 2010. The researchers were able to identify “patients with high probability of survival following taxane and anthracycline chemotherapy.”

Taxane and anthracycline are different types of chemotherapy.

“A predictive test with this performance could potentially assist medical decision-making,” said the report, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA)

Deciding whether or not to try chemotherapy can be difficult for cancer patients as it causes many unwanted side affects.

The researchers acknowledged that more testing must be done before the results can be called conclusive, a concern also raised by a breast cancer research specialist at the University of Adelaide, Dr Brendon Coventry.

“It’s difficult to know the significance of this because the sample size is small at 310,” he told The Conversation.

“It could be picking out patients who were going to have done better anyway irrespective of treatment. It requires larger exploration and treatment of many more patients in order to be more confident about these findings.”