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Concentrated doses of radiotherapy shown to be better in treating breast cancer

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by Cancer Research UK | News

29 May 2006

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Giving breast cancer patients fewer but larger doses of radiotherapy may be as safe and as effective at reducing the risk of cancer returning, according to Cancer Research UK trial results published in today’s (Tuesday 30 May) Lancet Oncology*.

A team of researchers at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, the Gloucestershire Oncology Centre, The Institute of Cancer Research and the University of Wisconsin, trialled an experimental schedule of 13 larger doses that appears to offer the same protection against cancer returning in the same breast as the international standard of 25 smaller doses, without any increase in side effects.

The ten-year trial followed 1410 women who had a lumpectomy for early breast cancer followed by different radiotherapy treatments. The findings from the study could mean simpler and more effective radiotherapy treatment for breast cancer patients and create cost savings for health services in the future.

Usually, patients have radiotherapy treatment once a day, from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend, meaning patients have to travel to hospital every weekday for five weeks. A reduction in the number of hospital visits could lessen anxiety for patients and save valuable time and money spent travelling to and from hospital.

The women participating in the study were randomly divided into three groups to rule out any bias. One group was given the standard treatment of 25 doses in five weeks, and the other two groups were given 13 doses in two slightly larger amounts over the same period. The researchers then monitored the women in the three groups and showed that a regimen of 13 doses can apparently offer an outcome at least as good as the standard treatment.

Lead researcher, Professor John Yarnold from The Institute of Cancer Research and The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We think it should be possible to give fewer but higher daily doses of radiotherapy to the breast to prevent cancer from returning without harming the patient’s healthy tissues.

“However, we will have to wait for the results of our further trials that have followed this study before we can confirm that the strategy is more effective than the standard treatment in the long term.”

Dr Lesley Walker, director of cancer information at Cancer Research UK, said: “This was an extremely important early trial. If these results are confirmed in the larger follow-up studies, it could mean better outcomes with less hospital visits for patients and therefore an improvement in their quality of life.”


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