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

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

Breast Cancer Radiation Ups Survival

Patients Who Have Radiation More Likely to Survive for 15 Years
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 15, 2005 -- Women who get radiation during treatment for breast cancer are more likely to be alive 15 years later, compared with those who don't get radiation.

So says an international team of researchers who reviewed 78 studies of more than 42,000 women with breast cancer.

Their key findings:

  • 15-year survival was more than 5% better with radiation therapy
  • Radiation therapy particularly improved rate of recurrence 5 years after treatment

The study appears in The Lancet. The researchers were from the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group (EBCTCG), which includes scientists from around the world.

Radiation therapy is given to kill any breast cancer cells that linger after surgery. It's often paired with chemotherapy to knock out as many remaining cancer cells as possible.

The goal is to improve patients' survival and to prevent cancer's return.

Better Long-Term Survival

Doctors already knew that women who get radiation after lumpectomy (cancer surgery that saves as much of the breast as possible) are less likely to get cancer again in that same breast over the next five years.

The new study estimates how radiation affects breast cancer survival in the long run.

"Now we know that it also reduces the long-term chances of dying from the disease," says Sarah Darby, PhD, in a news release.

Darby worked on The Lancet report. She's a professor at Oxford University's Clinical Trial Service Unit.

The study included women who had lumpectomies and mastectomies (total removal of the breast).

Over 15 years, about 36% of those who had gotten radiation survived for 15 years, compared with nearly 31% of those who did not get radiation. Radiation's benefits beyond 15 years aren't known, the study states.

Survival Improves With Time

"The differences in breast cancer mortality are greater at 15 years than at five years," the researchers write.

After crunching the numbers, they came up with this estimate: For every four local recurrences that are avoided by radiation therapy, there is one fewer breast cancer death. A local recurrence is breast cancer's return to the breast that was originally treated.

The study does show some risk of heart disease, lung problems, or breast cancer in previously unaffected breasts for patients who got radiation. New techniques have cut down on (but not eliminated) those risks, the researchers note.

They stress that they aren't making any recommendations about treatment.

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