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Breast cancer patients may be spared debilitating side effects 'by only using radiation on tumour'

Current best practice sees women given full breast radiotherapy in most cases.

Image: Shutterstock/antoniodiaz

BREAST CANCER PATIENTS who receive radiotherapy targeted specifically at the site of their tumour experience fewer side effects, according to a new study published today in the Lancet.

Researchers hailed the results as a “major step forward” and said their results “have the potential to lead to a real change in the way selected breast cancer patients are treated”.

Most women with breast cancer would usually receive radiation therapy to the full breast, but it can cause side effects such as hair loss, fatigue, aches and soreness. This study, however, suggested that better outcomes may come from focusing in on the area with the tumour.

Five years after treatment finished, the women on the clinical trial had fewer debilitating side effects of treatment than women who received treatment to the whole breast.

The trial involved more than 2,000 women aged 50 or over in the UK with early stage breast cancer, that was at low risk of coming back.

The women who received the partial radiation therapy reported fewer long-term changes to the appearance and feel of their breast, than those who had received treatment to the full breast.

Dr Charlotte Coles, reader in breast radiation oncology at Cambridge University, and lead investigator on the trial, said: “We started this trial because there was evidence that if someone’s cancer returns, it tends to do so close to the site of the original tumour, suggesting that some women receive unnecessary radiation to the whole breast.

Now we have evidence to support the use of less, but equally effective, radiotherapy for selected patients.

Hilary Stobart was a participant on the trial. The 62-year-old was diagnosed in 2009, and was part of the group that received the partial radiotherapy.

She said: “Any cancer diagnosis is shocking. There’s such a lot to take in and it takes time to process.

I was in the group that had the least amount of radiotherapy. I had very few side effects – just soreness at the start but that was it. I am pleased that I was part of this study.

After presenting the results to colleagues, this method has been chosen to be considered for selected patients by the UK Royal College of Radiologists 2016 breast radiotherapy consensus and the Danish Breast Cancer Apology Group.

Professor Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical adviser at Cancer Research UK, added: “This approach could spare many women significant physical discomfort and emotional distress.”

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