Find Information About:

Drugs & Supplements

Get information and reviews on prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, vitamins, and supplements. Search by name or medical condition.

Pill Identifier

Pill Identifier

Having trouble identifying your pills?

Enter the shape, color, or imprint of your prescription or OTC drug. Our pill identification tool will display pictures that you can compare to your pill.

Get Started
My Medicine

My Medicine

Save your medicine, check interactions, sign up for FDA alerts, create family profiles and more.

Get Started

WebMD Health Experts and Community

Talk to health experts and other people like you in WebMD's Communities. It's a safe forum where you can create or participate in support groups and discussions about health topics that interest you.

  • Second Opinion

    Second Opinion

    Read expert perspectives on popular health topics.

  • Community


    Connect with people like you, and get expert guidance on living a healthy life.

Got a health question? Get answers provided by leading organizations, doctors, and experts.

Get Answers

Sign up to receive WebMD's award-winning content delivered to your inbox.

Sign Up

Breast Cancer Health Center

Font Size

Radiation + Chemo Improves Breast Cancer Odds

Adding Radiation to Surgery and Chemotherapy Helps High-Risk Breast Cancer Patients

WebMD Health News

Jan. 18, 2005 -- Adding a course of radiation to conventional surgery-plus-chemotherapy treatment may help improve the survival chances for women with advanced forms of breast cancer.

A new, long-term study shows that women at high risk of breast cancer recurrence who received radiation after surgical removal of the breast (radical mastectomy) and chemotherapy had a 27% lower risk of death and 32% lower risk of breast cancer-related death 20 years after treatment.

Researchers say these results, combined with previous studies, confirm that in situations where the breast cancer has spread to more than four of the lymph nodes, chemotherapy alone after mastectomy is not optimal and that the addition of radiation therapy provides the best survival chances.

The results appear in the Jan. 19 issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

Radiation Reduces Breast Cancer Risks

In the study, researchers examined the effect of adding radiation therapy (targeted to the lymph nodes and chest wall) to a course of chemotherapy and radical mastectomy in premenopausal women considered at high risk of breast cancer recurrence because the tumor had spread to four or more lymph nodes.

The 318 women in the study were originally treated between 1979 and 1986 in British Columbia, Canada, and followed for 20 years.

The results showed that women who received radiation and chemotherapy had better results on a variety of measures compared with women who received chemotherapy alone after mastectomy.

For example, women who received radiation along with chemotherapy had a 32% lower risk of breast cancer-related death and a 27% lower risk of death due to any cause compared with those who received chemotherapy alone. In addition, women who received radiation along with chemotherapy also had a lower risk of breast cancer recurrence.

Researchers say the long-term side effects from radiation were similar and acceptable for both groups of women. Previous studies had suggested that radiation might increase the risk of complications associated with heart-related deaths.

The results expand upon the 15-year follow-up of the women in this study, which showed that radiation therapy was associated with a lower risk of breast cancer survival but not a lower risk of death due to any cause.

Although the results suggest that adding radiation to chemotherapy and surgery is beneficial for high-risk breast cancer patients, experts say it may not be appropriate for women at lower risk of breast cancer recurrence or spread.

In an editorial that accompanies the study, Timothy Whelan and Mark Levine, MD, of the Juravinski Cancer Centre in Hamilton, Ontario, say additional studies are needed to determine the effectiveness of radiation in women at more moderate risk.

Today on WebMD

Breast Cancer Overview
From self-exams and biopsies to reconstruction, we’ve got you covered.
Dealing with breast cancer
Get answers to your questions.
woman having mammogram
Experts don’t agree on all fronts, but you can be your own advocate.
woman undergoing breast cancer test
Many women worry. But the truth? Most abnormalities aren’t breast cancer.
Breast Cancer Treatments Improving
Resolved To Quit Smoking
Woman getting mammogram
Screening Tests for Women
ovarian cancer overview slideshow
serious woman
what is your cancer risk
10 Ways to Revitalize Slideshow