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Risk of Breast Cancer Recurrence Might Be Increased By A Delay in Radiotherapy

Posted Mar 04 2010 7:03am
The use of radiation therapy after breast conservation surgery has continued to rise over the last decade or two and has done so to the point where waiting times for radiation therapy have increased substantially.  Currently, a 6-week wait between breast surgery and radiation therapy is generally considered acceptable; however, the impact of this waiting period on breast cancer outcomes (recurrence and mortality) is uncertain.  Some studies have suggested that the risk of breast cancer recurrence increases with a longer waiting period, while other studies have not observed this relationship.

A new breast cancer study was recently published with the hopes of clarifying this relationship.  For this study, breast cancer researchers examined information from over 18,000 women over 65 years of age who had been diagnosed with Stage 0 - 2 breast cancer between 1991-2002 who received breast cancer conservation surgery and radiation therapy.  Analysis of this information provided the following results
  • On average, the time between breast surgery and radiation therapy was 34 days.
  • About 30% of the breast cancer patients started radiation therapy after 6 weeks.
  • Waiting more than 6 weeks between breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy resulted in about a 19% increase in local breast cancer recurrence.
  • The risk of breast cancer recurrence increased with longer waiting periods.
This is important information that might hopefully lead to shorter times between breast cancer surgery and radiation therapy.  Previous research has reported that decreasing local breast cancer recurrence can lead to improvements in overall survival.  Therefore, even though the risk of local recurrence with a longer waiting time to radiation therapy was modest in this study, reducing this risk might still improve breast cancer outcomes.  The factors responsible for increased waiting times appeared to be many and complex.  One cause of this delay appears to simply be an increase in demand with the percent of women in the Northeast who started radiation therapy after 6 weeks nearly doubling over a ten year period.  Other factors like increased instances of other health conditions, being Hispanic, having affected nodes, and having a history of low income were also reported to be associated with a delay in starting radiation therapy.  Finding ways to reduce this delay is an important goal for health professionals in order to improve breast cancer outcomes.

To learn about some simple things you can do as part of your normal, daily routine that might help reduce your personal risk of breast cancer, read my book Fight Now: Eat & Live Proactively Against Breast Cancer ( ).
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