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March 19, 2008

Fewer Doses Of Radiation Still Effective In Beating Breast Cancer

Topics: Medicine

Mammogram_showing_a__20540t.jpgA revolution in radiotherapy treatment for cancer could be near after 10-year trials showed less radiation delivered in fewer doses is just as effective in preventing return of the disease. An important result of the reduced number of doses and total radiation is fewer long-term side effects on the breast due to hardening (radiation fibrosis), as well as a reduction in shrinkage:

Two trials involving almost 4,500 women with breast cancer found that reducing the overall dose of radiation by 20 per cent and the number of sessions by 40 per cent cut side effects without increasing cancer recurrence. The finding could mean a reduction in the international-standard radiotherapy schedule for early breast cancer, which says that women should receive 50 gray of radiation in 25 equal doses over five weeks. It could also have implications for other cancers of glandular tissue, such as prostate cancer.

In women with breast cancer, radiotherapy is normally given after chemotherapy. The present regime means women must attend hospital five days a week for five weeks, spending an hour or more queuing for the radiotherapy machine, being correctly positioned under it and receiving their daily dose. Women in the two trials, called Start A and B (Standardisation of Breast Radiotherapy Trial), attended clinics three days a week over five weeks with a total dose of between 39 and 41.6 gray, compared with the normal 50 gray.

Five years on, recurrence rates of breast cancer in women on both trials were no different from those who had the standard treatment, but long-term side effects on the breast of hardening (due to fibrosis) and shrinkage were reduced.

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As is most often the case in early studies, it's too soon to change practice on the basis of just two studies which had followed patients for only five to six years. Longer-term independent research will be needed to support these findings, but the indications for likely success look good - so far.

Cross posted from New Hope Blog

Posted by Richard at March 19, 2008 10:56 AM

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