From Our 2007 Archives

Shorter Breast Cancer Treatment Works

Doctors Able to Shave 2 Weeks off Radiation Therapy With Good Results

By Charlene Laino
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Louise Chang, MD

Dec. 13, 2007 (San Antonio) -- A more convenient three-week course of radiation works just as well as the five-week schedule that is typically given to women after breast-conserving surgery for breast cancer, researchers report.

In a study of more than 1,000 women, only 6.2% of those who got the short course of radiation had cancer recur in the same breast over the next 10 years, compared with 6.7% of those who got the conventional five weeks of radiation. The difference was so small, however, that it could have been due to chance.

There was also no difference between the two groups in terms of survival, with 84% of those in both groups alive at 10 years, says researcher Timothy Whelan, MD, of the Hamilton Regional Cancer Center in Ontario, Canada.

The two schedules were also associated with a similar, low rate of skin reactions and other side effects, Whelan says.

Shorter Course More Convenient

Whelan says there's been a lot of interest in trying to shorten the course of radiation due to convenience and lower cost, but that long-term effects have been a concern.

He tells WebMD that he hopes the 10-year study will alleviate the concerns and encourage more U.S. doctors to offer women the short course.

"There are important advantages to women who want to be treated in a shorter period of time," Whelan says.

Phillip Devlin, MD, assistant professor of radiation oncology at Harvard Medical School, says he already offers the short course to women who, for reasons of travel or cost, can't get five weeks of treatment.

"I think we'll continue to see its use pick up," he tells WebMD. "In addition to shorter duration of treatment time, it means lower costs and less time out from work and family."

The study, presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, involved 1,234 women who had undergone breast-conserving surgery. They were randomly assigned to either three weeks or five weeks of radiation therapy.

SOURCES: San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, San Antonio, Dec. 13-17, 2007. Timothy Whelan, MD, Hamilton Regional Cancer Center, Ontario, Canada. Phillip Devlin, MD, assistant professor, radiation oncology, Harvard Medical School, Boston.

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