Radiation for Breast Cancer – What’s the Best Approach?

Reasearcher looking at images of breast cancer.

Doctors in the United States are starting to use a radiation therapy approach that’s popular in Europe.

About one in eight women in the United States will develop breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. After surgery, radiation therapy is still one of the most common methods for treatment. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) looked at how many people who were eligible for a shorter course of radiation therapy actually took advantage of it.

Rather than reduce the total dose of radiation, the shorter course, called hypofractionation, simply uses higher doses over a shorter span of time, so that patients can return to their lives sooner. As many as 70 percent of eligible women in Canada get hypofractionation, WHYY reported in a recent story. In the United States, however, only about a third of eligible patients receive the shorter course.

Not everyone is comfortable with the new approach, explains Jefferson’s Nicole Simone, MD, Associate Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology. “Some people say, ‘Well, you know, the standard fractionation has been done for so long, that’s what I’m comfortable with,'” said Dr. Simone.

Younger women or those with advanced cancers may not be good candidates for the shorter course. But for eligible women, Dr. Simone typically reviews the research with her patients and gives them input on the treatment decision. “Some patients just want to do the quickest thing possible to get back to their normal lives,” she says.

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