Quick Radiation Works for Breast Cancer
Study Shows Positive Results With 3-Week Course of Treatment
WebMD News Archive
Nov. 4, 2009 (Chicago) -- A shorter, cheaper and more convenient three-week
course of radiation appears to work just as well as the traditional six-week
schedule for some women with early-stage breast cancer, a new study
"We cut the duration of radiation treatment in half," says study researcher
Manjeet Chadha, MD, a radiation oncologist at the Beth Israel Medical Center in
New York. The approach is part of "the effort to personalize care and tailor it
to specific patients in specific situations."
The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Society
for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO).
European and Canadian studies have already shown that a short course of
radiation is just as effective as the conventional longer course, Chadha
"But in the U.S., there are limited data on this topic," she says. And many
Americans doctors are reluctant to embrace a new treatment unless it's been
proven to work here, says Harvard Medical School's Anthony Zietman, MD,
incoming president of ASTRO.
Additionally, the radiation therapy technique used in the current study is
different than what's usually done, according to Chadha. Typically, doctors
irradiate the entire affected breast for four or five weeks. Then, they give a
radiation boost, a little each day, to the part of the breast from which the
tumor was removed.
With the new technique -- called accelerated hypofractionated whole breast
irradiation -- "we simultaneously give the boost at the same time the whole
breast is treated," Chadha says.
Also, a personalized plan is developed using each patient's CT scan images.
The idea is to help ensure that radiation is blasted at the tumor site and not
at surrounding healthy tissue.
At the meeting, Chadha reported on the first 121 women enrolled in the ongoing
trial. All had breast-conserving surgery for early-stage breast cancer,
followed by the accelerated radiation treatment.
So far, the women have been followed for a median of two and a half years.
None has suffered a recurrence of cancer in the same breast.
None of the women experienced serious side effects, just the skin irritation
and redness that is typical of any radiation treatment, Chadha says.
The cosmetic results are "excellent," she says.
The study did not include a group of women who got the traditional longer
course of radiation for comparison. But the results obtained with the short
course are what would be expected with the longer course, Chadha says.
"Though encouraging, it is early," says Chadha, who plans to continue
following the women.
If further study in larger numbers of women "proves this shorter schedule is
effective and safe, we have an opportunity to improve the quality of life of
patients," she says.
Zietman tells WebMD that together with the Canadian and European studies,
"the data all suggest a shorter course of radiation is safe and effective."
Zietman says doctors should be offering the short course of treatment to
women -- particularly if, for reasons of travel or cost, they have trouble
getting in for six or eight weeks of treatment.
"There are a host of advantages, including less time away from work and
family," he says.