Less Radiation for Breast Cancer Works
New Method Can Shave 2 to 3 Weeks off of Conventional Radiation Therapy
WebMD News Archive
June 4, 2007 (Chicago) -- A new way of delivering radiation can safely shave
two to three weeks off the conventional treatment of women with early breast
cancer, a European study suggests.
“The findings suggest that women can safely undergo a less demanding course
of radiation therapy without appearing to increase their risk of recurrence,”
says researcher John A. Dewar, MD, a clinical oncologist at the University of
Dundee in Scotland.
Additionally, the short course appears to cause fewer side effects,
including breast shrinkage or swelling, and hardening of the breast tissue, he
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of
Low Breast Cancer Recurrence Rates in All Groups
The study included nearly 4,500 women that had successfully undergone
surgery to remove their breast tumors.
All the women received surgery and then underwent conventional external beam
radiation therapy, designed to prevent recurrences. The method involves aiming
a beam of X-ray radiation through the chest and under the arm to kill cancer
Some women received the standard treatment of 50 Grays, the unit used to
measure radiation, in 25 treatments spread over five weeks.
The others were given about 40 Grays -- either in 15 treatments over three
weeks or in 13 treatments every other day for five weeks.
By about five years later, cancer had come back in 5% or fewer of women in
all the groups.
Finding Potentially Practice-Changing
The results are “very exciting news for our patients,” some of whom have to
travel hundreds of miles to receive the conventional radiation regimen, says
Julie Gralow, MD, assistant professor of oncology at the University of
Washington in Seattle.
She notes that in the U.S., women are often given a booster, bringing the
total length of therapy to six to seven weeks.
“This is very disruptive to your life,” Gralow tells WebMD. “If we can give
less radiation, either by giving it over three weeks or by giving it every
other day, that’s a big advantage.”
Gralow says she believes the findings are potentially practice-changing.
Some of the radiation oncologists at her institution have already indicated
that they think it’s a good idea, she says. Plus, “patients will push for
U.S. Testing Another Breast Cancer Short Course
Gralow notes that doctors at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia are
testing yet another way of delivering a short course of radiation.
That method is called 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 surrounding healthy tissue.
Additionally, the doctors added a radiation boost, a little each day, to the
part of the breast where the tumor was removed.
As with the European method, the American method appears to be just as
effective and perhaps safer than conventional therapy.
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