Shorter radiotherapy courses for breast cancer just as safe and effective

British researchers say when it comes to treating breast cancer in women, shorter courses of radiation at a lower overall dose appear to be just as safe and effective as the standard treatment delivered over a longer period of time.

The researchers conducted a study of nearly 4,500 women with early breast cancer and the key was to give fewer but larger treatments of radiotherapy.

The researchers from the Institute of Cancer Research and the Royal Marsden Hospital say the study results suggest that a high total dose given in 25 small treatments is no better than simpler schedules using fewer exposures to a lower total dose.

Professor John Yarnold who led the study, says the findings support long-held beliefs among British cancer specialists who have used shorter radiotherapy courses for years, compared with doctors in other developed countries such as the United States.

The researchers say their data suggests the shorter treatment schedule is at least as safe and effective as the international standard, which is good news for cancer patients.

The research involved 4,500 women in which about half received standard radiotherapy of 25 treatments, five times per week over five weeks while the others received a lower total dose given in fewer, larger treatments in either three or five weeks.

Researchers then compared the rate of cancer recurrence in the treated breast along with the effects of the treatment on surrounding healthy breast tissues.

The researchers say the incidents of side effects were low, and no higher in women receiving the revised treatment while the shorter course appeared just as effective in attacking tumours.

The researchers say this is the first systematic and reliable evaluation to compare the longer international treatment and the shorter revised UK treatment.

Breast cancer is the leading cause of cancer death among women worldwide and it is estimated that about 465,000 women died from the disease in 2007.

The stage or severity of the disease does decide what the treatment will be and once surgery has remove the tumour, radiotherapy is given to kill remaining cancer cells in the breast and chemotherapy to destroys cells that may have spread from the tumour site.

Professor Yarnold says the results could lead to better treatments in the future, especially if further research shows even higher doses during shorter radiotherapy courses are just as safe and effective.

The research is published in the journal Lancet Oncology.

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