Shorter, intense therapy better way to treat breast cancer

September 25th, 2008 - 12:46 pm ICT by IANS  

Toronto, Sep 25 (IANS) A Canadian study has found that if women with early-stage breast cancer get a shorter, more intense course of radiation, they have a lower risk of side effects and recurrence of the cancer more than a decade after the treatment.Currently, women with early-stage breast cancer typically first undergo a lumpectomy to remove the cancer followed by a five-week standard course of radiation therapy to kill any remaining cancer cells.

But the Canadian study has found that the intense three-week course of radiation therapy - called accelerated hypo-fractionated whole-breast irradiation - is as effective as the standard five-week course of radiation after the surgery to remove the malignancy.

Timothy Whelan, a radiation oncologist and professor of oncology at McMaster University at Hamilton near Toronto, presented his study at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology in Boston early this week.

Whelan said there has been renewed interest in the shorter radiation therapy “due to the potential radiation advantages, patient convenience, quality of life and lower costs”, though long-term effects about this treatment remained a potential concern.

However, he said, their study has allayed this concern.

“We were surprised that the risk of local recurrence and side effects for women treated with accelerated whole-breast irradiation was so low even at 12 years. Our study shows that this treatment should be offered to select women with early-stage breast cancer,” said Whelan.

As part of their study, Whelan and his team randomly picked 1,234 women from Quebec and Ontario provinces in Canada to be treated with either accelerated whole-breast radiation or standard whole-breast radiation between 1993 and 1995.

After the treatment, the researchers monitored the women for 12 years to know whether the three-week accelerated whole-breast radiation was as effective as the standard five-week treatment.

The team found that a decade after treatment, breast cancer returned in 6.2 percent of women subjected to the three-week accelerated radiation therapy, compared to 6.7 percent for patients treated with standard five-week therapy.

Whelan said: “This shorter treatment may not be for everyone. However, I would encourage women whose breast cancer is caught early to talk to their oncologist to see if they are a good candidate for this shorter therapy.”

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