Internet Tool Predicts Cancer Return
Information Can Help Breast Cancer Patients Decide if They Need Radiation Treatment
Nov. 6, 2006 (Philadelphia) -- Women who undergo surgery for breast cancer may soon be able to use a Web-based
tool to find out whether they will benefit from radiation treatment,
The user-friendly tool predicts the risk of cancer coming back in the same breast over the
next 10 years in women who undergo breast-conserving surgery, or lumpectomy,
says researcher Mona Sanghani, MD. She is a cancer doctor at Tufts-New England
Medical Center in Boston.
For women with early-stage breast cancer, standard treatment involves
breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation therapy to the breast over a
six- to eight-week period to kill any remaining cancer cells.
"But if the risk of breast cancer recurrence is low, [women and their
doctors] can then consider deferring radiation treatment," Sanghani tells
While an early version of the tool is already online, Sanghani says it is
currently intended for use only by health care professionals.
"It still needs to be validated before it's ready for prime time,"
she says, adding that she hopes the final version will be online within a
The model was unveiled here at the annual meeting of the American Society
for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.
Weighing All the Factors
To develop the tool, the researchers developed a formula that takes into
account all of the risk factors associated with breast cancer coming back in
the same breast after breast-conserving surgery. These factors include age at
the time of treatment, the size and aggressiveness of the cancer, spread to
nearby vessels, whether any cancer cells were left behind after surgery, and
the use of chemotherapy or tamoxifen therapy.
"You plug in all the information and it may show that you have a 10%
chance of breast cancer coming back without radiation therapy and a 5% chance
with radiation. Or there may be a 10% chance without radiation and a 30% chance
with it," Sanghani says.
In early tests, the model showed that "young women with big tumors that
are aggressive under the microscope and who are not getting chemotherapy or
tamoxifen will be at high risk of recurrence in the same breast without
radiation," she says.
Sanghani says that even when the final version is up and running, women
shouldn't use the information to make a decision on their own. Rather,
"patients can bring this up with their physicians and use the information
to weigh the benefits of radiation treatment," she says.
Jean-Philippe Pignol, MD, a breast cancer researcher at Sunnybrook Health
Sciences Centre in Toronto, and a speaker at the meeting, says a tool like this
is desperately needed.
"Patients like to go online and try to figure out what treatments they
need," he tells WebMD. "But they often go to sites that are not of good
quality. This tool offers accurate, genuine, and important