According to an article recently published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, even elderly women derive benefit from radiation therapy in the treatment of early breast cancer.
Early breast cancer refers to cancer that has not spread from the breast. Standard therapy for early breast cancer may include the surgical removal of the cancer, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, and/or hormone therapy.
The need for radiation therapy in older women with early breast cancer and its benefit in these patients has been questioned.
Researchers from several medical institutions in the U.S. recently evaluated data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare database to determine the effectiveness of radiation therapy in elderly women with early breast cancer. The data was collected between 1992 and 1999 and included 8,724 women aged 70 years or older with node-negative breast cancer (no cancer spread to lymph nodes under the arm).
Women who were treated with radiation therapy following surgery had better outcomes than women who did not receive radiation:
- At five years following diagnosis, women who had received radiation therapy had an approximate 4% reduced risk of developing a cancer recurrence compared to women who did not receive radiation therapy.
- At eight years following diagnosis, women who had received radiation therapy had nearly a 6% reduced risk of developing a cancer recurrence compared to women who did not receive radiation therapy.
- Radiation therapy provided the most benefit for women aged 70-79 years who did not have other significant medical conditions.
- Radiation therapy provided the least benefit for women aged 80 years or older who did have other significant medical conditions.
The researchers concluded that elderly patients with node-negative breast cancer, particularly those aged 70-79 years with no other significant medical conditions, benefit from the addition of radiation therapy to their treatment regimen. Elderly women diagnosed with breast cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of all treatment choices.
Reference: Smith B, Gross C, Smith G, et al. Effectiveness of Radiation Therapy for Older Women With Early Breast Cancer. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2006; 98: 681-690.