Surgery plus radiation therapy an effective way to treat early breast cancer in women aged 70 and older

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Surgery plus radiation therapy is an effective way to treat early breast cancer in women aged 70 and older, according to a new study published in the September 1, 2004, issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology-Biology-Physics, the official journal of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

For early breast cancer, the standard of care is surgery to remove the cancerous lump followed by radiation therapy, thereby allowing the patient to keep her breast. However, older women are not always offered this option. Some older breast cancer patients are treated with tamoxifen alone while others are encouraged to have a mastectomy to “simplify” their treatment, even though the loss of a breast can be depressing for a woman of any age. This study sought to evaluate whether breast-conserving surgery plus radiation was as effective for older women as it is for women under age 70.

In the study, 196 women aged 70 and older from France and Italy underwent surgery to remove the cancer followed by external beam radiation therapy. Two-thirds of the patients also received tamoxifen and 16 percent received chemotherapy.

Researchers found that the breast-conserving therapy was just as effective for older women as it was for younger ones. After 5 years, the disease-specific survival rate was 92 percent. At 10 years, that rate was 88 percent. The overall survival rate was 81 percent at five years and 62 percent at 10 years. The study also found that the older women tolerated the treatment as well as their younger counterparts.

“I’m very excited about the results of this study. Since approximately 30 percent of all breast cancers are diagnosed in women aged 70 and older, my hope is that these results will encourage more older women to avoid a disfiguring mastectomy and opt for breast-conserving surgery plus radiation,” said Bruno Cutuli, M.D. lead author of the study and radiation oncologist in the Department of Radiation Oncology at Polyclinique de Courlancy in Reims, France.

For more information on radiation therapy for breast cancer, visit http://www.astro.org/patient/treatment_information/ for a free brochure.

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