Conference Coverage

Breast cancer experts and other HCPs disagree on treatment strategies for early BC


AT ASCO 2023

– Nearly 60% of health care providers surveyed failed to choose the same treatment strategies for HER2– early breast cancer as a panel of five oncologists with expertise in breast cancer, a new study finds.

The discrepancy suggests that many providers aren’t aware of the findings of recent landmark trials that formed the basis of the panel’s opinions, said study coauthor Denise A. Yardley, MD, of Tennessee Oncology and Sarah Cannon Research Institute in Nashville, in an interview. The findings, based on responses to a treatment decision tool, were presented in a poster at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.

Study methods and results

For the new study, researchers analyzed how 547 providers – and the panel – responded to 10 case scenarios in high-risk HER2– early breast cancer between June 2022 and January 2023.

Among the providers surveyed, 72% identified as physicians, including oncologists, hematologists/oncologists, surgery oncologists, radiation oncologists, and pathologists. One percent said they were nurse practitioners or physician assistants, 7% said they were pharmacists, 1% were nurses, and the specific roles of the remaining 19% were unknown, but included medical students, according to Dr. Yardley, who is a breast cancer oncologist.

The study authors developed the free decision tool – available via the medical education company Clinical Care Options – to help oncologists navigate new treatment options for high-risk HER2– early breast cancer. The Food and Drug Administration has recently approved drugs such as abemaciclib, olaparib, and pembrolizumab for the condition.

Health care providers enter details into the tool about their patients along with their intended treatment plans. The tool then shows them recommendations for treatment from a panel of five oncologists with expertise in oncology. The members of the panel based their perspectives on the findings of the KEYNOTE-522 (pembrolizumab), OlympiA (olaparib), and monarchE (abemaciclib) trials.

The oncologists with expertise in breast cancer, who provided recommendations in March 2022, generally agreed about the best treatments, Dr. Yardley said.

The other health care providers surveyed didn’t agree with the breast cancer experts about the best treatment 58.8% of the time.

For example, one scenario describes a HR+, HER2– patient with no deleterious BRCA mutation – or unknown status – who fits the monarchE high-risk criteria. All the breast cancer experts on the panel recommended abemaciclib and endocrine therapy. But 203 providers supported a variety of strategies: endocrine therapy alone (9%), chemotherapy followed by endocrine therapy (49%), and olaparib and endocrine therapy (2%). Only 37% opted for abemaciclib and endocrine therapy, and 4% were uncertain.

Another scenario describes a patient with triple-negative breast cancer with no residual disease after neoadjuvant chemotherapy. All the experts agreed on a strategy of no adjuvant therapy plus observation. Forty percent of 25 providers agreed with this approach, but 24% were uncertain, 12% chose pembrolizumab, and 24% chose capecitabine.

In many cases, providers chose more intensive treatment options than the experts did, Dr. Yardley said.

Overtreatment in cancer is often a reflex for oncologists, she said, although “we’re learning to deescalate these treatment algorithms where there is really no benefit [to extra treatment].”

“It’s a challenge for some of these oncologists who are busy and dealing with multiple solid tumor types to keep up with the nuances of a rapidly changing field,” Dr. Yardley noted.

Many community oncologists aren’t specialists in one type of cancer and must try to keep up with treatment recommendations regarding multiple types, she continued.


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