Radiation Improves Odds for Some Women after Mastectomy

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Last Updated: Oct 12, 2016

A new analysis suggest that women who undergo mastectomy can reap other benefits from receiving radiation if there are still traces of cancer in the lymph nodes.

Radiation cuts down the chances of cancer re-emergence among women who suffer from cancer cells detected in the cluster of nodes under their arms after undergoing mastectomy. The node form part of the lymphatic system, an agent for immune and other cells.

Sarah Darby reported to the Reuters that it has been clear for some time that women in whom the disease has not spread to the lymph nodes in the armpits cannot benefit from the therapy.

The study’s author from the Early breast Cancer Trialists’ Collaborative Group at the University of Oxford in UK also said that it is still unclear how it would benefit women with two or three positive lymph nodes.

These findings are from data from over 8,000 women who were randomly assigned to receive radiation or not after one or both breasts were removed due to cancer. This information was obtained from 22 trials carried out between 1964 and 1986.

The researcher confirmed the already known fact – radiation doesn’t offer any benefit for women with no lymph node tested positive for cancer after mastectomy.

However, for women who had one to three lymph nodes test positive after their breasts were removed, there were notable differences in cancer recurrence and death.

E.g. for women who had positive lymph nodes, chances of cancer recurrence was 46% after 10 years compared to 34% among women who received radiation.

Likewise, about 47% of women had died by the start of 2009 in comparison to 37% of women who received radiation.

Radiation benefits remained even for women who went for alternative treatments including chemotherapy.

Dr Alphonse Taghian, who was not involved in the study, told Reuters Health that this actually confirmed a lot of what people started to think about. He is the co-director of Breast Cancer Research Program and chief of breast radiation at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, and also teaches at Harvard Medical School.

Darby pointed out that most professional guidelines don’t advocate radiation for women with one to three lymph nodes that test positive for cancer.

She said that she is hopeful that the guidelines will be reviewed.

There are some cautions as most of the data included in the study could be out of date.

The data involved in this analysis had the lymph nodes of women completely removed or sampled to establish how many contained cancer. The practices are not common in recent times.

Taghian said that people should be aware that radiation treatments have been technologically improved despite that they can cause heart problems and other cancers.

Dr Philip Poortmans, from the Department of radiation Oncology at the institute Verbeeten in Tilburg, Netherlands, said in an accompanying editorial that the results of the new analysis is a confirmation that post-mastectomy radiation should be considered for patients with one to three lymph nodes that test positive for cancer.

Darby called on the need for women to discuss with their doctors about their treatment approaches. She noted that breast cancer is complicated and it would be hard to know what is best for every patient.

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