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

New Breast Cancer Therapy Has Benefits

Study Shows Fewer Side Effects for Shorter Course of Radiation Treatment
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

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 Philadelphia.

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 conventional method."

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 IMRT.

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 WebMD.

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 before 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