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Study: Shorter radiation therapy sessions an option for some women

Lankenau Medical Center January 13, 2015 Wellness Articles

A new study finds that women who have undergone lumpectomies for breast cancer may be able to shorten the length of time it takes to get radiation therapy treatments.

The research, published last month in The Journal of the American Medical Association, found that radiation therapy, which is typically conducted five days per week for five to seven weeks, can be just as effective for some women when shortened to a period of three to four weeks of more intense radiation.

“Cancer treatment can be very overwhelming, regardless of what type of cancer you have. This study builds on other recent advances, showing that the  length of time it takes to receive radiation therapy can be cut in half for women with early stage breast cancer ,” says Marisa Weiss, MD, director of breast radiation oncology at Lankenau Medical Center and founder of breastcancer.org. "An equally effective treatment course can be shortened from seven to three and a half weeks, by giving a fewer number of higher dose daily treatments."

For women who are trying to squeeze treatment sessions in between a busy career, family life, and other activities, a shorter course mean less time spent in the doctor’s office and less money spent on time off from work or child care.

The JAMA study isn’t the first to highlight the option for shorter courses of radiation therapy. In 2011, the American Society for Radiation Oncology endorsed them, as well, calling them equally as effective as longer treatments for women over 50 who:

  • Had a lumpectomy (removal of their cancer)
  • Had not had chemotherapy
  • Had lymph nodes that had not been affected by cancer

Main Line Health hospitals have all adopted shorter courses of radiation therapy treatment for eligible patients.

While these shorter courses of treatment save time, a common worry for patients is the side effect that higher daily doses of radiation might have on the skin, like burning or scarring. However, thanks to improved technology and equipment, research has found that patients who opted for a shorter course of treatment have not experienced long-term cosmetic issues.

“My hope is that these new treatment advances, including the convenience of shorter courses of treatment, will encourage women to do their research, learn about their options, and ask the right questions of their health care provider,” says Dr. Weiss. “Discuss your treatment options and determine whether or not a shorter course of treatment is right for you.”

Main Line Health offers a comprehensive range of breast care services to meet a women's physical and emotional needs. Visit our website to learn more about our breast health services.