Two-thirds of women who have lumpectomies to treat breast cancer are receiving radiation therapy that lasts twice as long as necessary, according to a new study.
The longer treatment typically lasts for five to seven years. Four rigorous studies have found that 3-4 weeks of more intense radiation is just as effective. Studies have also found that women prefer the shorter radiation treatment which is less expensive, the New York Times reported.
While 60-75% of women with breast cancer have lumpectomies, doctors and insurance companies say that few receive the shorter radiation treatment because it takes time to change medical practices, particularly when a procedure has used for decades.
[quote text_size=”small” author=”– Ezekiel J. Emanuel” author_title=”Study author”]
I think radiation oncologists know they should be using it but it’s very very slow uptake whereas in other countries 70-80 percent of women are getting this [accelerated] treatment.
In a new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, Ezekiel J. Emanuel and Justin E. Bekelman, two University of Pennsylvania doctors, analyzed data from 14 insurance plans involving 15,643 women who received a lumpectomy followed by radiation, NBC News reported.
Researchers looked at two groups of women who had radiation treatment and asked how many received the shorter treatment. One group matched women in previous randomized studies evaluating conventional treatment versus the shorter course. The women had early-stage cancer and were at least 50. Shorter radiation therapy is recommended for this group of women.
The other group of women differed from participants in previous studies as they were younger, had previous chemotherapy, or had cancer cells in the lymph nodes. Practice guidelines do not endorse or discourage shorter-term therapy for such women.
Among the group of women who should have received the shorter radiation therapy, 10.6% received it in 2008 compared to 34.5% in 2013. In Canada and Britain, a minimum of two-thirds of women received a shorter-term radiation treatment, CBS News reported.