According to a recent article published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a radiation schedule of 22 days appears to be just as effective as the standard 35-day radiation schedule following a lumpectomy for breast cancer.
Breast cancer is diagnosed in over 200,000 women and causes approximately 40,000 deaths annually in the United States. Fortunately, early-stage breast cancer (cancer that has not spread from its site of origin) has a high cure rate following standard therapy. Treatment typically involves a lumpectomy, or the surgical removal of the cancer, followed by radiation therapy to kill any local cancer cells that may have not been removed by surgery. One standard radiation schedule is Monday through Friday for a total treatment time of 35 days. Since radiation therapy is time consuming, causes side effects, and is costly, researchers have been evaluating an optimal duration of necessary radiation therapy.
Researchers from Canada recently compiled data from a clinical trial comparing a shorter radiation schedule to the 35-day radiation schedule in over 1,200 women with breast cancer. This trial included women who did not have cancer spread to the lymph nodes (node negative) and received a lumpectomy, followed by either a 22-day schedule of radiation or a 35-day schedule of radiation. Radiation was to the entire breast only.
Six years following treatment, cancer recurrences occurred in only 2.8% of women who received the shorter radiation schedule, compared to 3.2% of women who received the standard radiation schedule. In addition, appearances of the breast were considered “good” in 75% of women in each group, with no reported differences in cosmetics.
These researchers concluded that a 22-day radiation schedule following a lumpectomy in node-negative women with breast cancer appears to be at least as effective as a 35-day schedule. Patients with early-stage breast cancer may wish to speak with their physician about the risks and benefits of a shorter radiation schedule or the participation in a clinical trial further evaluating this issue. Two sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (cancer.gov) and www.eCancerTrials.com. eCancerTrials.com also provides personalized clinical trial searches on behalf of patients.
Reference: Whelan T, MacKenzie R, Julian J, et al. Randomized trial of breast irradiation schedules after lumpectomy for women with lymph node-negative breast cancer.
Journal of the National Cancer Institute. 2002; 94:1143-1150.