U of M Expert Perspective: More data needed on brachytherapy for breast cancer

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Many cancer patients are familiar with brachytherapy. The approach delivers a small, targeted dose of radiation to a cancer site via irradiated seeds or pellets, and has been used for nearly 20 years with good results for patients battling prostate cancer.

But now, more and more women are turning to the procedure to treat their breast cancer. And according to new research from M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, women may want to get all the facts before selecting the path that's right for them.

According to the new research, there was no difference in survival rates after breast cancer in women who chose brachytherapy or whole breast irradiation, but women who chose brachytherapy were more likely to undergo a mastectomy within five years of their initial cancer treatment.

The researchers point out, however, that the increase is slight: they estimate that for every 56 women treated with breast brachytherapy, 1 woman was harmed with unnecessary mastectomy.

According to University of Minnesota Masonic Cancer Center cancer surgeon Todd Tuttle, M.D., the research shouldn't necessarily scare women away from brachytherapy, but he stressed that more data may be needed to get the complete picture on the procedure as it relates to breast cancer.

"Although it's very attractive at first because you are potentially treating a lot less of the breast and you're doing it in a much shorter period of time, the benefits may not be there. In fact you may see more patients having long-term complications," he said. "Many surgeons are starting to think twice about this kind of therapy for a lot of women."

Tuttle notes that the medical community needs more data on the therapy before it should be considered alongside other types of therapy. Tuttle advises women to talk to their doctor before selecting the treatment approach that is right for them.

Read the full story from Reuters Health.

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