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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Targeted Radiation for Advanced Breast Cancer

Therapy kills small vessels that feed liver tumors linked to breast cancer's spread

WebMD News from HealthDay

By Robert Preidt

HealthDay Reporter

MONDAY, March 24, 2014 (HealthDay News) -- A minimally invasive treatment that delivers radiation directly to tumors may slow progression of breast cancer that has spread to the liver, a new study suggests.

The treatment is called yttrium 90 (Y-90) radioembolization. Doctors insert a catheter through a tiny cut in the groin and guide it into the artery that supplies the liver. Radiation-emitting micro beads are then sent through the catheter and float out to kill small blood vessels that feed the tumor.

Researchers led by Dr. Robert Lewandowski, an associate professor of radiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine in Chicago, looked at the outcomes of 75 patients. The women ranged in age from 26 to 82, and had chemotherapy-resistant breast cancer that had spread to the liver ("metastatic" disease). Their liver tumors were too large or too numerous to be treated with other methods, the authors noted.

Y-90 radioembolization therapy stabilized 98.5 percent of the treated liver tumors, according to the study, which was to be presented Monday in San Diego at the annual meeting of the Society of Interventional Radiology.

In addition, 24 of the women experienced a more than 30 percent shrinkage in tumor size after treatment, which caused few side effects.

"Although this is not a cure, Y-90 radioembolization can shrink liver tumors, relieve painful symptoms, improve the quality of life and potentially extend survival," Lewandowski said in a society news release.

"While patient selection is important, the therapy is not limited by tumor size, shape, location or number, and it can ease the severity of disease in patients who cannot be treated effectively with other approaches," he added.

Two breast cancer experts were cautiously optimistic about the findings.

According to Dr. Neelima Denduluri, "while these results appear promising, this is a very small retrospective study," meaning that it fell short of the "gold standard" type of prospective trial that tracks patients going forward over time. "Randomized controlled prospective studies addressing this issue are necessary before radioembolization can be incorporated routinely," she believes.

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