Studies raise concerns about partial-breast radiation therapy
One type of partial-breast radiation therapy may be outpacing the available evidence on the technique’s safety and effectiveness.
Balintfy: When it comes to treating breast cancer, the goal of doing less has been making progress. For example, a strategy of breast-conserving surgery is replacing breast removal, or mastectomy. Researchers point out that for the past 20 years or so, the standard treatment for early-stage breast cancer has become a lumpectomy, which is the removal of a cancerous lump in the breast, followed by whole breast radiation over five to seven weeks.
Vikram: And what we are looking for now is to decrease that burden on women of having to come for radiation for five to seven weeks every day and also to see whether we can reduce the amount of healthy breast that we have to irradiate.
Balintfy: That's Dr. Bhadrasain Vikram. He's chief of the Clinical Radiation Oncology Branch at the National Cancer Institute at the NIH. He says there are two approaches of what's called partial-breast radiation therapy, both have the goal of reducing the amount of breast tissue being irradiated, and the length of that treatment.
Vikram: In the case of brachytherapy, it's down to about five days. In the case of the intraoperative radiation technique, that's down to one day.
Balintfy: But what concerns researchers is that brachytherapy, where small radioactive seeds are temporarily implanted in the cavity left after surgery to deliver highly localized radiation, is growing in use while research trials to compare and verify its effectiveness are not yet completed.
Vikram: So to the medical professionals, I would encourage them to stay with what is evidence-based treatment. And I would encourage them to enroll the patients into those trials if we get the answers as soon as possible.
Balintfy: And Dr. Vikram would suggest breast cancer patients ask questions.
Vikram: And I think the key question to ask is: “Is this treatment you're offering me, has this been validated in a randomized clinical trial?”
Balintfy: He adds that brachytherapy or other kinds of partial breast radiation options are still under evaluation in randomized clinical trials supported by the NIH. For details on breast cancer treatment options, as well as breast cancer clinical trials recruiting patients, visit www.cancer.gov. And for more from Dr. Vikram on this topic, tune into episode 155 of the NIH Research Radio podcast. For NIH Radio, this is Joe Balintfy— NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. Bhadrasain Vikram
Topic: brachytherapy, breast cancer, breast, radiation, radiation therapy,