New Breast Cancer Therapy Has Benefits
Study Shows Fewer Side Effects for Shorter Course of Radiation Treatment
Nov. 8, 2006 (Philadelphia) -- A newer method of delivering radiation safely
shaves as much as two weeks off the conventional treatment of women with breast
cancer, a study suggests.
"Much to our surprise, four weeks of treatment was actually associated
with a lower rate of skin reactions and other side effects than the
conventional seven-week course of treatment," says researcher Gary
Freedman, MD, a radiation oncologist at Fox Chase Cancer Center in
Additionally, the women given the short course did not require any more pain
medication than usual and said they were highly satisfied with the cosmetic
results, he tells WebMD.
"Every single woman we studied was pleased to be finished in four
weeks," Freedman says. "We had no one who wished they had opted for the
Same Dose, Shorter Time
The study, presented here at the 48th Annual Meeting of the American Society
for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO), involved 75 women treated with
breast-sparing surgery followed by intensity modulated radiation therapy or
In IMRT, multiple radiation beams are focused at the breast from many
directions. A computerized program allows doctors to adjust both the strength
and the intensity of the beams, so that more radiation is blasted at the tumor
site and less is delivered to healthy surrounding tissue.
Additionally, the doctors added a radiation boost, a little each day, to the
part of the breast where the tumor was removed.
Their outcomes were compared with published results from studies of women
who received conventional external beam radiation therapy. That method involves
aiming a beam of radiation, or X-ray, through the skin to the tumor site and
surrounding tissue to kill cancer cells.
Because the women receive the same dosage of radiation regardless of the
delivery method, the researchers had expected that there would be a trade-off,
with the short, high-dose course resulting in more toxicity, Freedman tells
Side Effects, Pain Acceptable
But that proved not to be the case. Among the findings:
Fewer than one in four of the women on IMRT developed moderate to severe
redness or peeling of the skin in the breast area. In comparison, more than one
in three women who received conventional radiation treatment in a large
published study had these reactions, Freedman says.
By six weeks after treatment, none of the women on IMRT had anything worse
than mild redness.
When women were asked to score the cosmetic results by comparing their
treated breast with the untreated breast, the majority of women on IMRT rated
the appearance of both breasts as good to excellent.
While women on IMRT said they were in more pain six weeks and eight months
compared with before treatment, the pain was generally mild and the women did
not require pain medication. By 20 months later, their pain was no worse than
Phillip Devlin, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Harvard
Medical School, says that if confirmed in a well-designed study in which half
the women get IMRT and half get conventional treatment, the findings will be
change medical practice.
"If this holds up, we would want to offer all women the option of having
the shorter therapy," he tells WebMD. "It would likely improve quality
of life and access to care, as it means less time away from work and