CORAOPOLIS (KDKA) — A year ago, a mammogram detected breast cancer.

Because of Barbara Pander’s sister’s experience with the illness, she expected the worst.

“I thought I’d probably have the chemotherapy. I thought I’d lose my hair. I thought I’d be sick,” the 58-year-old Coraopolis woman said. “And my sister Betty was very devastated by the news.”

There was no cancer in Barbara’s lymph nodes and the tumor had estrogen receptors, so she was a good candidate for genetic testing on the tumor to see if she would benefit from chemotherapy.

The test looks for which genes are turned on and how many are turned on. This determines how effective chemo will be.

“It’s a powerful test to individualize the treatment,” Dr. Barry Lembersky of the UPMC Cancer Center said.

Scores come back as low, intermediate and high. Her results showed it would not be helpful for her to get chemotherapy.

“I know mine was in the low numbers which is where you’d like it to be and there are others that would have maybe marginal numbers that would have to make a harder decision than I did,” she said. “But I think it’s an extra step and it’s absolutely valuable and I was relieved not to have to take chemo.”

She took hormone therapy only and she still got seven weeks of radiation.

“There’s no test right now about the pros and cons of radiation,” Dr. Lembersky said. “Having radiation after removal of the lump of tumor, so-called lumpectomy, is the standard practice.”

Insurance typically covers the $4,000 test.

“To know that you can get a personal kind of treatment, diagnosis from my specific tumor is a wonderful thing,” Barbara said.

More Health News
National Cancer Institute

Watch & Listen LIVE