Delaying radiation therapy for women with very early breast cancer ups recurrence

According to research from the Washington University School of Medicine University in St. Louis, Missouri, delaying radiation therapy too long after surgery significantly increases the risk of recurrent tumors in women treated for very early, or what is referred to as “stage 0,” breast cancer. 

Stage 0 breast cancer, or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), is diagnosed based on the presence of abnormal cells in the milk ducts of the breast.  Every year, more than 60,000 U.S. women are diagnosed with DCIS, and experts often debate how best to treat it because the abnormal cells don’t always develop into full-blown, or invasive, breast cancer.  Standard therapies include lumpectomy, lumpectomy plus radiation, or total mastectomy. 

Researchers found that women were much more likely to experience a recurrence of DCIS or higher-stage cancer in the same breast if they received radiation therapy eight or more weeks after a lumpectomy or did not receive radiation therapy after surgery.  Data from 5,916 women diagnosed with DCIS and treated with lumpectomy showed that for women who received radiation within eight weeks, the rate of recurrence was 2.5 percent.  After adjusting for age, race, pathological factors, surgical margin status and hormone therapy, the risk of breast cancer recurrence was 26 percent higher for women who had delayed radiation therapy and 35 percent higher for women who did not initially receive radiation. 

“This study indicates not only that radiation therapy is an important component in the treatment of DCIS, but also that it must be received in a timely manner,” said Ying Liu, MD, PhD, lead author of the study.  

At the Alliance Cancer Centers in Greenville and Clarksdale, women diagnosed with breast cancer have two types of radiation therapy treatment options.  External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) can be administered with a linear accelerator (LINAC) that generates and delivers high-energy X-ray beams to the breast cancer.  The treatment is safe and will not burn or hurt you.  EBRT destroys cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissue and it is the most common type of radiation therapy for women with breast cancer.  A second type of radiation therapy treatment for breast cancer is brachytherapy, a type of internal radiation in which a radiation oncologist inserts high-energy radioactive seeds into a device in the tissue where the cancer exists.  The seeds emit radiation to the immediate surrounding cancer cells but will not make your body radioactive.  Brachytherapy can be given along with EBRT to provide an added boost of radiation to the tumor site or it can be administered alone. 

To learn more about how the Alliance Cancer Centers in Greenville and Clarksdale treat breast cancer, please click here