Radiation therapy after lumpectomy for early-stage breast cancer can be safely delivered in higher daily doses to greatly reduce treatment time. This conclusion of a new Fox Chase Cancer Center study is good news for women who might opt to have a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy because of the time commitment needed for the usual six-week radiation course with the breast-sparing surgical option.
The curative outcome for early-stage breast cancer is the same whether a woman chooses to have a lumpectomy or mastectomy, the removal of the entire breast. Many factors influence a woman's decision when considering the two options. One of these factors is the time commitment for the recommended radiation course that follows a lumpectomy. Radiation significantly reduces the chance that cancer will recur in the affected breast, but the usual time commitmentfive days a week for six or seven weekscan be a barrier for choosing this treatment option.
In the first known study of its kind, published in the June 1, 2007, International Journal of Radiation Oncology Biology Physics (Vol. 68), physicians at Fox Chase demonstrated that treatment time can be shortened from six to four weeks using IMRT (intensity-modulated radiation therapy), a highly sophisticated system of delivering external-beam radiation that allows for more even dose distribution and accuracy as well as lower doses to organs such as lung and heart, thus reducing side effects.
Using IMRT, this study examined the delivery of a higher daily dose of radiation over four weeks (versus a lower dose over six to seven weeks). During that same time period, the lumpectomy site where the tumor was removed was treated with a high-dose radiation "boost." The standard "boost" is typically administered after the four to five weeks of whole breast irradiation and adds another one to two weeks to the treatment time.