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Radiation for Breast Cancer?

Reported September 23, 2008

(Ivanhoe Newswire) -- Radiation therapy for some breast cancer patients may be causing more harm than good, according to a new study.

Currently, women who have a mastectomy but whose lymph nodes are negative are urged to undergo radiation therapy to the chest wall and the surrounding lymph nodes. The radiation can lead to lymphedema, a swelling of the extremities, and there are pulmonary radiation risks including pneumonitis, inflammation, scarring and fibrosis.

For the study, researchers at Boston’s Fox Chase Cancer Center examined the records of women treated by mastectomy and radiation from 1985-2006. The majority of the patients received radiation to the chest wall only and others received radiation to the chest wall and the regional lymph nodes.

“We found an extremely low rate of recurrences in the lymph nodes among those who didn’t have them irradiated,” Penny Anderson, M.D., an attending physician in the radiation oncology department Fox Chase, was quoted as saying.



The five-year survival rate for the two groups was 91 percent for those who had radiation to the chest wall only and 100 percent for those who also received radiation to the lymph nodes. Anderson said there was no significant difference between recurrence rates between the two groups.

Given those findings and the risk for serious side effects, avoiding radiation to the lymph nodes may be an acceptable approach for some patients, the authors concluded.

SOURCE: 50th annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic and Radiology Oncology in Boston, Sept. 21-25, 2008