Breast Cancer Patients Not Getting Enough Chemo

By: Lindsay Puccio
By: Lindsay Puccio

June 15, 2005

It's known that obesity can increase the risk of having breast cancer come back, but researchers believe they have found another reason why cancer recurrence is more common in overweight women.

The amount of chemotherapy a breast cancer patient receives is based on height and weight. The heavier the patient, the higher the dose.

According to a new study, about 30 percent of breast cancer patients were given a reduced dose of chemo, which some say is not enough.

"I think physicians that would do that would do it for safety reasons, so in a way you want to treat the cancer but you don't want to hurt the patient," said Dr. Christiana Brenin, an Oncologist at UVa Medical Center.

Chemotherapy is based on a weight formula, when some doctors see the large dose an obese patient requires, they fear toxicity.

"By capping it you end up underdosing a lot of the women who may be overweight who should be getting higher doses on chemotherapy," said Brenin.

Experts said underdosing can be just as harmful as overdosing them. Not enough chemo could mean another trip back to the cancer center.

Doctors also warn patients to be careful not to gain excessive weight during or after chemotherapy. "The more weight gain there is after treatment for breast cancer, the greater the risk of recurrence," said Brenin.

A breast cancer survivor said UVa helped her stay on track. "They hooked me up with this 10 week exercise program and I also ran the 4 miler. It's incredible the care that you get [at UVa]. I'm sure every single patient there felt like I did [when I was a patient]. You feel like you are the only patient they're taking care of," explained Michelle Durham.

Researchers say they conducted the study to make sure all cancer patients are getting the right dose of chemotherapy.

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