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Radiation Plus Surgery Cuts Risk of Breast Cancer Return

Study Shows Benefits of Adding Radiation Therapy to Breast-Conserving Surgery

Reassuring News for Women

Stephanie Bernik, MD, chief of surgical oncology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, says the new findings are reassuring for women. "This gives us more confidence to say that breast-conservation surgery plus radiation is a good choice for some women with early breast cancer."

Elizabeth Comen, MD, says the findings underscore the importance of following breast-conserving surgery with radiation. She is a breast oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City.

"It's reassuring and reaffirms what we already know," she says. "We always opt to preserve the breast when we can for aesthetic reasons and because a mastectomy is a bigger surgery." 

"Radiation plus lumpectomy is equal to mastectomy in terms of survival for women with early-stage breast cancer," Comen tells WebMD.

But not every woman with early breast cancer is a candidate for breast-conserving surgery. Some women may need a mastectomy based on the size of their tumor and/or other risk factors, she says.

Side Effects of Radiation

Radiation is safe, Comen says. Side effects may include fatigue and/or skin irritation. "The way we give radiation today is so targeted and experts are so good at avoiding vital organs."

Some women with connective tissue diseases such as lupus and other certain medical conditions may not be candidates for radiation.

The new findings may cause the pendulum to swing back in favor of breast-conserving therapy with radiation over mastectomy in certain women, says Marisa Weiss, MD. She the president and founder of Breastcancer.org and the director of Breast Radiation Oncology and Breast Health Outreach at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood, Pa., as well as a breast cancer survivor.

There has been an attitude among women that "the more they take off, the better," she says. As a result, "fears sort of permeated and when women are diagnosed, it is more common to choose mastectomy."

"This study gives women more confidence that breast preservation therapy is a very powerful way to treat early stage breast cancer," Weiss tells WebMD. Adding radiation to the mix also lowers the risk of recurrence and their risk of dying compared to breast-conserving therapy alone.

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