Health system takes part in worldwide cancer study

Dr. Blanche Mavromatis

CUMBERLAND — The Western Maryland Health System recently participated in a worldwide breast cancer study focusing on the best treatment for women in remission from breast cancer. 

"We had several patients from here participate," said Dr. Blanche Mavromatis, an oncologist with the health system.

"This was a very important large trial," she said. "It was federally funded and there was a very important question that needed to be answered."

Organized and executed by the National Cancer Institute, The Trial Assigning IndividuaLized Options for Treatment (Rx), or TAILORx, allowed specialists from around the world to survey how genes play a role in treating women recovering from the most common form of breast cancer — hormone positive breast cancer. 

"Our understanding of breast cancer has evolved and improved over the years," Mavromatis said, "so we know that the size doesn't always matter, its more about the biology of the tumor."

According to Mavromatis, the majority of women recovering from this type of breast cancer is treated with chemotherapy and hormone therapy to limit the chances of the cancer returning.

However, results from the TAILORx study, which are now published in the New England Journal of Medicine, show some women with hormone positive breast cancer respond to hormone therapy alone when it comes to lowering the chances of the disease coming back.

"We now know that, for the most part, these women can be spared the chemotherapy, not only the immediate effects of chemotherapy but also the long-term effects of treatment," Mavromatis said.

The study used a molecular profiling test to examine multiple genes at once and determine the biology of the carcinoma. 

"We've had access to these genomic tests that look at the cancer cells and test them," Mavromatis said. "This particular case, the Oncotype DX test, tests for about 21 genes and that gives us a better sense of the biology of the tumor. 

"It's a smarter way to evaluate the breast cancer these women have," she said.

Mavromatis credits the health system's relationship with the University of Pittsburgh for the health system's role in the study.

"We treat our patients with the drugs that are available," she said, "but for the past 10 years we have had a very strong relationship with the University of Pittsburgh. Through them we are able to open national clinical trials so that our patients can access (trials) directly and not go out of town, so they can get the benefit, potentially, of the trials without leaving the vicinity and their home."

Follow staff writer Heather Wolford on Twitter @heatherbwolford.

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