Breast cancer survival rate boosted by radiotherapy

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According to a new study breast cancer patients who have radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery have a lower risk of a recurrence of the disease and a better chance of beating the illness.

Following an overview of 78 trials into the benefits of radiotherapy, which aims to kill any remaining cancer cells in the breast left after the tumour has been removed, showed the five-year risk of the cancer returning dropped from 26 percent to seven percent in women receiving the treatment.

The study shows that the odds of dying from the disease 15 years after diagnosis fell from 36 to 31 percent.

Dr Sarah Darby, a professor of medical statistics at the University of Oxford says this is a new finding, and though it has been known that radiotherapy is beneficial in stopping the cancer growing again locally but it has not previously been seen that after breast-conserving surgery, radiotherapy improved survival from breast cancer mortality or from overall mortality.

The study found that radiotherapy also brought an overall improvement in survival in patients who had had a mastectomy and whose cancer had spread to the lymph nodes in the armpit.

But the researchers say the treatment is not appropriate for mastectomy patients whose cancer had not spread beyond the breast.

Dr Richard Peto, a co-author of the study says it provides the first really definite evidence that, for women who have had breast-conserving surgery and for women whose cancer has spread to the armpit, radiotherapy reduces the long-term risk of dying from the disease.

Peto says that though the improvement rate is small it is definite and adds to the improvement in long-term survival produced by chemotherapy and hormone therapy.

Breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women, and according to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) in Lyon, France, more than a million cases occur worldwide each year.

Although most cases of the disease develop in women over 50 years old, a small percentage are in women in the 30s or younger.

Australian pop singer Kylie Minogue was diagnosed with the disease earlier this year at the age of 36.

As a rule breast cancer is treated with surgery and radiotherapy, chemotherapy and hormone treatment, or a combination of them, depending on the cancer and stage of the illness.

Factors which can increase a woman's risk of breast cancer include having a mother or close relative with the disease, inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes, an early puberty, late menopause and not having any children.

The study is published in The Lancet medical journal.

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