Many of us who have lived through early stage breast cancer with lumpectomy surgery have also gone through radiation treatment.
If you’ve been there, you know the drill: 4-6 weeks of daily radiation sessions. Each one is relatively short, but there’s the time involved in getting there, changing into a gown, waiting for your turn, having the treatment, changing back into your clothes and getting back home (or work or wherever else you need to be).
And this happens every single day, five days a week, for weeks. You get to know your radiation therapists very well. And they get to see your breast over and over again. It goes on and on and on.
However, a recent clinical trial (described in the National Cancer Center’s Cancer Currents blog) examined the efficacy of a shorter 3-week session and found that the results (i.e., chances of cancer recurrence and serious side effects) were comparable to the longer, standard treatment.
Women who have an elevated risk of having the cancer recur at the tumor site are usually given an additional “boost” of radiation to that area. This takes place after the initial weeks of radiation, extending the length of treatment. However, researchers discovered that this boost could be given concurrently, thereby shortening the number of weeks that patients had to undergo radiation without compromising its effectiveness.
From the perspective of a patient, this is very welcome news. Setting aside time every day of the week to make the trip to the cancer center for treatment only works if your other responsibilities are flexible. I was working part-time during this, had access to a car, could get to the cancer center quickly and could be done in time to pick up my kids without too much of a problem. My bosses were extremely understanding and gave me the latitude I needed to complete my treatment with a minimum of stress.
For many, however, this might not be the case. Being able to shorten the overall treatment time could be critical in helping patients finish all their sessions.
It is heartening to know that as cancer treatments evolve, they become much easier to incorporate into our everyday lives. I am hopeful that the changes that come about over the next 10 years will provide even more options for successful completion of treatment with a greater survival rate for all.
Ben-Ari, E, Shorter Course of Radiation Is Effective, Safe for Some with Early-Stage Breast Cancer, Cancer Currents, November 30, 2022: https://www.cancer.gov/news-events/cancer-currents-blog/2022/early-breast-cancer-shorter-radiation-therapy
Note: the results of the referenced clinical trial were presented on Oct 24, 2022 at the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) annual meeting in San Antonio, Texas with Frank Vicini, MD as the study leader. My expectation is that more information will be published and I will try to post it here once it is.