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Study Shows A New Approach to Radiotherapy May Save Lives

As we continue to support breast cancer research and hope for a cure, innovative advancements in technology continue to emerge in our society that simplifies cancer treatments. The phrase “good things come in small packages” may finally ring true for breast cancer patients. Two new studies published in the JAMA Oncology journal have reported that higher doses of radiation therapy administered in shorter courses may be less toxic for breast cancer patients. Breast cancer patients might also experience a better quality of life during shorter course treatments than they would with lower doses during a longer course of radiation therapy.

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Photo by IndyDina with Mr. Wonderful via Flickr

Whole breast radiation therapy with low doses over longer periods of time has been the most common approach for women diagnosed with breast cancer in its early stages and those who have reduced the risk of recurrence by undergoing breast-conserving surgery. Approximately 230,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year and opt for radiation therapies to improve their survival rate.

The primary concern with a longer course of radiation therapy is that patients often report difficulty in caring for their families and maintaining a high quality of life, according to Dr. Simona Shaitelman, an assistant professor of radiation oncology from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. Many patients are working mothers who are juggling household obligations and families while undergoing radiation therapy, explained Shaitelman to Health.com.

After evaluating 287 women with early stages of breast cancer who were 40 years of age or older, the research team found that patients opting for higher doses and shorter courses of radiation had less trouble meeting the needs of their families after six months, which is a high priority for many female patients.

The study also revealed health benefit for women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer undergoing shorter courses of radiation therapy. The research team evaluated the side effects experienced and ailments reported by the subjects. Their results revealed that the subjects who opted for higher doses in shorter courses experienced lower incidents of breast pain, severe itching, acute dermatitis and fatigue during treatment than those who opted for lower doses of radiation therapy over longer periods of time, which ultimately improved their quality of life.

Experts evaluating the study and the new data presented have encouraged breast cancer patients to explore their treatment options thoroughly. Dr. Benjamin Smith, the study’s corresponding author, asserts that the study helps to fill in the missing pieces of previous literature and research related to breast cancer treatment. “No longer do I regard the shorter course of treatment as just an option for patients, but rather the preferred starting point for discussion with patients if they need whole breast radiation,” Smith said. Proponents of the study’s findings encourage breast cancer patients to consult with their physicians and oncologists regarding higher dosages of radiation therapy in shorter courses as an alternative to the typical treatments.

The findings were not published to eliminate whole breast radiation therapy in longer courses, but to provide patients with the option to choose higher doses in a shorter course if they so desire. Any type of treatment for cancer ultimately takes a toll on patients. Expanding options for services that can improve their quality of life and allow those inflicted with breast cancer to care for their families is essential, especially when new technologies are emerging daily.

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