Radiation with Chemo May Cut Breast Cancer Relapse Risk

By Sam Schulz
|  Sunday, Sep 25, 2011  |  Updated 2:29 PM PDT
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Radiation with Chemo May Cut Breast Cancer Relapse Risk

Despite rigorous screenings, breast cancer kills an estimated 425,000 women worldwide each year—but experts say simultaneous radiation and chemotherapy might cut that number.

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Breast cancer patients are significantly less likely to suffer a relapse if they're treated with radiation and chemotherapy at the same time, experts said Sunday.

Cancer experts told reporters at the European Multidisciplinary Cancer Congress in Stockholm that their study indicated that such treatment, known as synchronous chemoradiation, should be considered worldwide as a new standard treatment approach, Reuters reports. It has few side effects and doesn't affect patients' quality of life more than back-to-back chemo and radiation do, they said.

Currently, most breast cancer patients follow up surgery with either radiation or chemo, or more often a round of chemo followed by radiation, to kill remaining cancer cells and prevent a recurrence. Still, there has been no consensus among doctors on how best to time the treatments.

The study whose results were announced Sunday, led by clinical oncologist Indrajit Fernando, examined various radiation schedules along with anthracycline-CMF chemotherapy in 2,300 women in Britain who had already undergone surgery to remove early-stage tumors.

Synchronous chemoradiation reduced the risk of recurrence among those women by 35 percent, the study found. After eight years of follow-up, only 41 patients who had received their chemo and radiation at the same time had their cancer come back; 63 patients who had followed their chemo by radiation had a recurrence.

Survival rates between the groups didn't differ after five years—but they could in larger groups after long periods of time, said Fernando. Currently, breast cancer kills an estimated 425,000 women worldwide each year.

"Even a 2.3 percent reduction in local recurrence rates will have an impact worldwide when we consider that this is a very common cancer," he said. He intends to report his group's finding to his country's National Institute of Clinical Excellence, which issues treatment guidelines.

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