Breast Cancer Patients Need Less Radiation Treatment

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Breast Cancer

Breast cancer patients who have received lumpectomies should have the option to choose three weeks of daily radiation instead of five weeks of treatment. The guidelines for a shorter treatment schedule was established for patients with early-stage breast cancer. However, a recent study shows that many physicians are not following these treatment guidelines or offering them to their patients. Most doctors are still prescribing the five-week treatment, even though some breast cancer patients need less.

The new study, published by JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, revealed that only 35 percent of affected women receive the three-week treatment schedule. Researchers studied the data from several commercial insurance plans involving 15,643 women who had lumpectomies.  The five-week treatment can be very difficult for women, especially those who have small children or work a nine-to-five job. as it places a very high demand on their time.  For women who live in rural areas, the drive can be very exhausting and difficult. A shortened treatment schedule would make for a much easier process. However, doctors are still giving the five-week schedule for treatment.

Shorter treatment time would also reduce the emotional and mental difficulty for women having to go through the process. It is also less expensive. Shorter treatment can reduce the average healthcare cost by almost five thousand dollars per year. Some women are even choosing to have a mastectomy instead of a lumpectomy in order to avoid the difficulty that comes with the longer treatment schedule.

The study suggests that three weeks of treatment at higher doses is just as effective with no likely side effects. The three-week radiation schedule was endorsed in 2011 by the American Society of Radiation Oncology, which issued specific guidelines for following the regimen. The guidelines were focused on a specific category of breast cancer patients who were a part of the study and found to need less radiation treatment. These women were generally over the age of 50 with small tumors who did not receive chemotherapy treatment. Experts also suggest that women 70 years of age or older rarely benefit from radiation treatment. Yet, about two-thirds of these patients are still getting the five-week treatment.

Some doctors may find it difficult to change due to being used to receiving good results for such a long time with the old treatment schedule. Many may be afraid that the new schedule will be less effective. Some physicians are concerned with how safe the shorter treatment is for younger women,those with large breasts and those that have more advanced tumors.

Some experts are concerned that the resistance to changing the treatment time is because doctors make more money for longer treatment schedules. Women are advised to ask their doctors about all options for treatment. Improved relationships between doctor and patient will support the patient receiving the best care that benefits their recovery and helps to ensure that breast cancer patients who need less radiation treatment receive only what they need.

By Kelara Pumphrey

USA Today
The New York Times
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Photo By Topeka Library – Flickr License

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