Radiation 'Boost' Can Prevent Breast Cancer Recurrence

An extra radiation dose after surgery cuts the return chance of breast cancer.

ByABC News
February 18, 2009, 2:48 PM

Oct. 29, 2007— -- After battling breast cancer and being pronounced free of the illness, women are looking for anything that can help them stay healthy. Now it appears that an additional boost of radiation may help keep the disease at bay, according to a new study released Monday at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

The study finds that women who receive the extra dose of radiation treatment are almost two times more likely to be cancer-free after 10 years than the women who had the traditional radiation therapy treatment.

Young women below the age of 40 showed more benefits after the extra treatment, but it helped all women to some degree.

"We are very pleased with these results. We see more than 80 percent of the patients still alive 10 years after treatment has ended," says study author Dr. Harry Bartelink, a radiation oncologist at the Netherlands Cancer Institute in Amsterdam. "In this study, we were able to analyze why the young patients were having this benefit. We are gaining more insight."

Previous research by the same group showed similar results, but this research was able to analyze how the benefits were greater for younger women.

Even though only 5 percent of breast cancer cases occur in women under 40, this group tends to have a higher rate of cancer recurrence, because they have many more years for the cancer to creep back.

"We are also finding ways to reduce the need for mastectomies, which leads to a better quality of life," says Bartelink.

Treating breast cancer in its early stages usually involves surgery to remove the tumor (lumpectomy), followed by radiation therapy to the breast over a six- to eight-week period to destroy any remaining cancerous cells.

"After lumpectomy, the whole breast is at risk of recurrence, but the area at greatest risk is the tumor bed," says Dr. Marisa Weiss, president and founder of breastcancer.org.