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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Brachytherapy Zaps Breast Cancer

Common Prostate Cancer Treatment May Also Help Women

WebMD Health News

Oct. 8, 2002 -- A radiation therapy that uses tiny implants to zap prostate cancer tumors from inside the body may also help prevent breast cancers from coming back after surgery. A new study shows brachytherapy is just as effective as standard radiation therapy in reducing breast cancer recurrence up to five years after surgery.

Brachytherapy uses tiny, radioactive pellets surgically inserted that deliver targeted radiation directly at the site of the tumor. The implants have been commonly used to treat prostate cancer, but now the technique is also being evaluated in treating other types of cancer as well as heart disease.

Most women with breast cancer receive external radiation treatments that irradiate the entire breast after undergoing surgery to remove the tumor (known as a lumpectomy). But researchers now say similar results can be achieved by delivering a more localized dose of radiation through brachytherapy. The radioactive pellets are inserted during the lumpectomy.

The researchers presented the results today in New Orleans at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's annual meeting.

The study looked at the effects of using a brachytherapy implant that delivered radiation at either a high dose or low dose rate directly to the tumor site in 199 women with early stage breast cancer. Each implant was designed to irradiate the area where the tumor had been removed plus a 1 to 2 cm region surrounding the cavity.

Twenty-three of the patients received chemotherapy in addition to the radiation, and 109 also took the drug tamoxifen, which is a hormone-based therapy commonly used to prevent breast cancer recurrence.

The study followed the women for about five years, and in that time two of the patients had a recurrence of their cancer, which researchers say are comparable results to those found using conventional whole-breast radiation.

Study author Peter Yale Chen, MD, of the department of radiation oncology at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich., says more follow up is still need to determine the long-term effectiveness of this new treatment approach for breast cancer.

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