Radiation After Lumpectomy Improves Survival, Saves Breasts

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Radiation therapy after a lumpectomy reduces the risk of cancer recurrence and improves survival in women with early stage breast cancer, according to a new study, and experts say this research helps validate their belief that women in the early stages of the disease don't have to lose their breasts.

The study, published this week in the Lancet, is an analysis of 17 different worldwide trials looking at the effects of radiation after a lumpectomy. The research, done by the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group, an organization of hundreds of scientists from around the world who study breast cancer treatments, evaluated data from more than 10,000 women with breast cancer for an average of 10 years.

The authors found that 19 percent of women who had radiation therapy had a recurrence compared to 35 percent of women who didn't. Women who had radiation were also at lower risk of dying 15 years after diagnosis compared to women who didn't have radiation.

"The overall findings from these trials show that radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery not only substantially reduces the risk of recurrence but also moderately reduces the risk of death from breast cancer," the authors wrote.

Breast cancer specialists not involved in the research say while the finding that radiation following lumpectomy is effective isn't new, the study highlights that radiation is an important component of breast cancer treatment, and methods for delivering radiation have improved so they are safer. They also say the findings offer proof that double mastectomies aren't always necessary because they are no more effective at preventing recurrence.

In an accompanying comment, Dr. Thomas Buchholz, chief of radiation oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston said the research indicates that each treatment phase plays an important role.

"The incremental benefits of each component of treatment contribute to the ongoing success in reduction of breast cancer mortality rates," he wrote.

"It confirms that not skimping on any aspect of treatment leads to more women being alive without losing their breasts," said Dr. Kimberly Blackwell, director of the breast cancer program at Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham, N.C. "Just removing the cancer without radiation is not an appropriate option, as the data suggest. It's very unusual to see a tumor surgically removed and the breast remain where women don't receive radiation."

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