Women with breast cancer are soon set to benefit from new radiotherapy treatment options being made available. Following surgery to remove the primary tumour, breast cancer patients are currently administered radiotherapy to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

“The standard provision for radiotherapy had traditionally been given in daily doses over a five week period, concentrated on the whole breast,” says Dr Duncan Wheatley, consultant clinical oncologist at the Royal Cornwall Hospital in Truro.

"A three-week schedule of radiotherapy was just as effective at reducing the risk of cancer coming back, but had less side effects."

A previous study had proven that a three week schedule of whole breast radiotherapy was just as effective at reducing the risk of cancer coming back, but had less short- and long-term side effects. An ongoing study, involving a one-week course instead of the (now usual) three weeks, ‘FAST-Forward’, funded by the National Institute of Health Research (NIHR), has already been shown to have fewer short-term side effects, and long-term results are eagerly awaited.

 

Other interesting findings

 

In a new, separate study, ‘IMPORT LOW’, funded by Cancer Research UK and published in the August issue of The Lancet, radiotherapy given to a partial segment of the breast, in the area where the cancer was removed, was shown to be just as effective as when treatment is given to the whole breast.

"Radiotherapy given to a partial segment of the breast, was shown to be just as effective as treatment to the whole breast."

“Because you’re treating a smaller area, there are also fewer side effects involved. Partial breast radiotherapy means being able to not only reduce the risk of the cancer recurring, but also to do less harm to the areas we don’t need to treat, like the healthy breast tissue, and the heart and lungs underneath,” says Wheatley.

The new treatments will become the standard model of care very soon, Wheatley predicts, and will herald better outcomes for patients and health providers alike.

“They don’t require a great change in technique, are easily implementable and don’t cost any extra,” he says. “The reduced treatment schedule is also likely to prove much more convenient for patients, too.”

We are delighted that the efforts of the funders, patients and researchers has proven so effective and will benefit patients around the world.