Breast cancer breakthrough cuts weeks off radiotherapy
THOUSANDS of breast cancer sufferers could be spared weeks of gruelling radiotherapy after scientists discovered a new targeted approach is just as effective.
The less aggressive method focuses on the tumour rather than the whole breast and means a course of treatment can be completed in five days rather than up to six weeks.
In addition, it is likely to have fewer side effects such as scarring, sensitivity and a change in breast appearance.
More than 38,000 women undergo radiotherapy for breast cancer in England each year.
The procedure is given after a tumour is surgically removed and is designed to eradicate all remaining cancer cells to ensure it does not return.
The traditional technique involves daily radiotherapy sessions in hospital five days a week for between three and six weeks, something most patients describe as a huge burden.
In the trial, 520 women who had either type of treatment were monitored for ten years after surgery.
The researchers found little difference in cancer recurrence rates – 3.3 per cent among those in the partial radiation group compared with 2.6 per cent in the group that received whole-breast treatment.
Overall survival rates at the ten- year mark were also very similar at 92.7 per cent for the women who received targeted treatment and 93.3 per cent for those treated by the more traditional method.
Dr Icro Meattini, who led the study at the University of Florence, said: ‘Post- operative radiation still represents a mainstay of follow-up treatment for breast cancer, able to significantly reduce the local relapse occurrence rate.
‘In well-selected cases, there is no difference in patients’ outcomes whether they are treated with accelerated partial breast irradiation or whole breast irradiation.
‘A once-daily regimen of external accelerated partial breast irradiation might also produce an improved quality of life, with less toxicity, and can potentially reduce the overall treatment time.’
Dr Meattini told the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium in Texas that, while the study did not monitor the different side effects between the two treatments, the partial approach was less likely to cause cosmetic changes and is less expensive to administer.
Previous research by Cambridge University suggested partial breast irradiation came with fewer side effects such as hardening of tissue and a build-up of fluid.