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Timing Counts In Treating Breast Cancer As Delays Can Be Deadly, Researchers Confirm

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Women diagnosed with breast cancer can improve their survival odds by moving quickly to get surgery and chemotherapy, two studies analyzing large databases show.

In one study, researchers found that survival odds in women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer dropped by nearly 10 percent for every 30-day delay before undergoing surgery.

When asked whether all women should have surgery within 30 days of the diagnosis, study co-author Richard J. Bleicher of Philadelphia's Fox Chase Cancer Center says, "I would say the sooner, the better."

He acknowledged that a case workup should be complete and that can take time, but patients and doctors need to "understand the trade-off in survival where certain choices they make may delay surgery."

"This is critical information because nearly every patient asks either 'how long do I have before I have to schedule surgery' or 'can I do X, Y or Z before I begin my treatment,' " Bleicher notes.

In another study, it was found that delaying chemotherapy following surgery by 90 days or more lowered survival odds by 34 percent, say researchers.

"Given the results of our analysis, we would suggest that all breast cancer patients that are candidates for adjuvant chemotherapy should receive this treatment within 91 days of surgery or 120 days from diagnosis," the study authors say.

"We are not taking about providing care in days, but a woman should not have to wait months," says Harvard researcher Dr. Eric Winer, director of the breast program at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and senior author of an editorial accompanying the studies appearing in the journal JAMA Oncology.

"We need to reinforce for doctors that delays could be a problem for some patients and that, in any case, timely care could not be bad," says Winer.

The two studies taken together provide strong evidence that a delay in therapy, either surgery and/or chemotherapy, in cases of early breast cancer represents a risk to patients, the editorial authors argue.

Winer added that more such studies should be undertaken to identify factors that can introduce delays and develop strategies to deal with them.

"We cannot be so convinced of where the truth lies as to miss out on important diagnostic opportunities or to create personal hardships for patients as they navigate the ever-growing landscape of modern breast cancer care," the editorial authors wrote.

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