Less intense treatment methods may suffice for some breast cancer patients

Women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer might not have to go through as intense a treatment regimen as previously thought, if a pair of recent studies is any indication. While one study concluded that getting a lumpectomy may not be necessary, a second study determined that for those who opt for such a procedure, a single shot of radiation applied to the site of a tumor directly following the surgery would be just as effective as daily radiation over a six-week period. 

The lumpectomy study, lead by Armando Giuliano, MD, of the John Wayne Cancer Institute Breast Center in Santa Monica, Calif., found that there was no "survival advantage" for women who chose the operation, which can lead to painful swelling in the arms and fingertips. Out of 991 women, half (445) underwent the procedure, also called an axillary lymph node dissection (ALND), while the other half (446) did not. After five years, those who chose ALND boasted a disease-free survival rate of 82 percent, while those who did not had an almost 84 percent disease-free survival rate. 

"Our findings suggest that there may not be a benefit to removing more lymph nodes than the sentinel node only, and that women can avoid the risk of additional side effects that come with more extensive lymph node removal," Giuliano said, according to ecancermedicalscience.com. "Axillary lymph node dissection will still be needed in some cases, but these findings show it may be necessary for far fewer women." 

The radiation study, lead by Michael Baum of University College London and presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology's recent annual meeting, based its premise on the fact that "90 percent of local recurrences occur within the index quadrant." Targeted intraoperative radiotherapy, Baum and his fellow researchers determined, produced less toxicity than the more broad external beam radiotherapy. Wound complications for both methods were roughly equal. 

"We're now getting really good long-term survival for breast cancer," Baum said, according to the New York Times. "The theme is now how can we improve the quality of life for women."

To learn more:
- read this New York Times article
- check out this ecancermedicalscience.com post
- here's the radiation study's abstract