Thousands of women who have radiotherapy for breast cancer could be spared severe side-effects after scientists found that targeted treatments or lower doses were just as effective.
The study, led by Cambridge University and the Institute of Cancer Research in London, showed that irradiating the tumour – rather than the whole breast – was just as good and came with fewer side-effects.
A second approach – bathing the whole breast with radiation but using a lower dose – was also equally effective and also reduced adverse effects.
The less aggressive technique was shown to reduce permanent disfigurement of the breasts. The main side-effect of radiotherapy is an overall change in breast appearance; women also report pain, hardening of tissue, sensitivity and a build-up of fluid.
The scientists told the European Breast Cancer Conference in Barcelona that each of these side-effects were reduced with the targeted or low-dose approach.
More than 38,000 women have radiotherapy for breast cancer in England each year. The procedure is given after having a tumour surgically removed and is designed to eradicate all remaining cancer cells.
The trial involved testing the lower dose and more targeted dose among 1,200 women at 41 British hospitals, and then monitoring them for five years after treatment.
The researchers found no difference in rates of cancer recurrence with the less aggressive approaches, and the patients reported significantly lower side-effects.
Dr Indrani Bhattacharya, a clinical research fellow at the Institute of Cancer Research, said: ‘The findings from this study are reassuring for women who are offered either whole breast or partial breast radiotherapy using this technique of radiotherapy, which is simple to deliver and already available in centres worldwide.’
Grete Brauten-Smith, of the Breast Cancer Care charity, said: ‘While radiotherapy is never a walk in the park, it will be wonderful if fewer people experience traumatic side-effects, such as severe pain, as a result.’
© Daily Mail