Giving Compass' Take:

• Joe Neel and Patti Neighmond report that researchers have discovered a way to differentiate between dangerous and low-risk tumors, saving unnecessary treatments. 

• How can funders work to minimize unnecessary treatments for cancer patients? 

• Learn how to make an impact on cancer research

For years, doctors have focused on detecting breast cancer at the earliest possible moment after a tumor develops so treatment can start right away. But more and more studies are showing many small, early tumors don't present a danger.

So, when is it safe to remove a tumor but skip additional treatments like tamoxifen, chemotherapy, and radiation?

A study published in JAMA Oncology suggests that it may be possible to distinguish fairly precisely between "ultralow-risk" tumors that are unlikely to cause problems and those that are more aggressive and likely to spread — thus allowing some patients to avoid unnecessary treatments.

Researchers in the U.S. and Sweden used a diagnostic test called MammaPrint to measure a tumor's genomic "fingerprint" and compared it with survival time after a tumor was removed. They say they were able to pinpoint patients who had a very low risk of death from breast cancer — even up to 20 years after the first diagnosis.

"You can really say to someone, 'You're not going to die of this disease. And we don't have to be aggressive upfront and treat you with everything, just in case,' " says the lead author of the study, breast cancer specialist and surgeon Dr. Laura Esserman, of the University of California, San Francisco. "There are breast cancers that pose little or no systemic risk."

Read the full article about the tumor test by Joe Neel and Patti Neighmond at NPR.