How Much Radiation Do Breast Cancer Patients Need?

breast cancer, radiation, cathy mccue
Patient Cathy McCue with radiation technicians Abbey Barrett (left) and Jennifer Hebert, ARRT.

Traditionally, patients with early-stage breast cancer who choose lumpectomy plus radiation therapy have been treated with five to six weeks of daily radiation therapy following surgery. In the last half dozen years, however, two landmark studies by researchers in the United Kingdom and Canada found that treating patients with higher doses of radiation for a shorter period – about three to four weeks – produced results that were as good as or better than the conventional approach.

Follow-up studies showed that the shorter-term technique controls tumors just as effectively as the standard method. Shortening treatment times can also lessen the inconvenience and costs associated with longer treatment schedules.

As a result of these findings, the shorter-term approach is becoming the standard for treating many women with early-stage breast cancer at many cancer centers around the country. At Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center, investigators are launching a clinical trial to compare the short- and long-course methods in patients who have undergone mastectomies and immediate breast reconstruction.