When it comes to breast cancer, doctors found not all tumors are created equal.

“In the past you would think that the bigger the breast tumor, sort of the nastier the behavior,” says Dr. Lea Blackwell, a breast surgical oncologist on the Lee Memorial Health System medical staff.

Turns out, small tumors may pack a deadlier punch. It all depends on the specific type of breast cancer.

“Potentially you can have these small tumors that actually can behave very badly, rather than a large tumor that’s behaving badly, and maybe a large tumor is not necessarily really behaving badly it just has been there a long time,” says Dr. Blackwell.

To determine the exact type of breast cancer doctors are using a new technique called oncotyping.

“Oncotyping is a test that they generated on the actual tissue that you take out of the breast. They used that information and they developed this really kind of complicated mathematical equation to look at the genes in somebody that has a breast cancer and they recognized there’s different genes in those cancer cells and so they created a 21 gene assay,” says Dr. Blackwell.

By following the outcomes of people with various strains of breast cancer, researchers determined which were the worst subtypes.

“Then they can develop a score they call it a recurrent score and they also break it into low risk, intermediate risk and high risk,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Understanding who has what type of breast cancer and what it means is helping doctors customize treatment. Most importantly decide who would benefit from chemotherapy.

“If they have a low risk of occurrence then they don’t think that chemotherapy would be beneficial if they have a high risk of recurrence then it would be beneficial,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Not everyone with breast cancer is a candidate for oncotyping.

“You look at patients that have a tumor that’s a centimeter or greater and its estrogen receptor positive and most likely they don’t have lymph nodes involved,” says Dr. Blackwell.

Dissecting the cancer itself is helping eradicate the disease.

View More Health Matters video segments at leememorial.org/healthmatters/

Lee Memorial Health System in Fort Myers, FL is the largest network of medical care facilities in Southwest Florida and is highly respected for its expertise, innovation and quality of care. For nearly a century, we've been providing our community with everything from primary care treatment to highly specialized care services and robotic assisted surgeries.

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