Study: Targeted Radiation May Lead to More Mastectomies

Study: Targeted Radiation May Lead to More MastectomiesNew research indicates women with breast cancer who were given radiation treatments through strategically placed "seeds" showed double the risk of having to under go a mastectomy later on compared to patients who received radiation for their entire breast.

This form of targeted radiation, called brachytherapy, also led to more reports of side effects including infection.

According to the U.S. National Cancer Institute, brachytherapy is a form of internal radiation therapy that uses radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires or catheters that are placed directly near the tumor.

"We were very surprised by the results," said Dr. Benjamin Smith, senior author of the study, which was presented on Wednesday, December 7, at the 2011 San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. "Our data suggests that some of the trade-offs between brachytherapy and whole breast irradiation, at least on the average across the country, might be a little bit more complex than may have initially been appreciated."

The authors found that five years after treatment, 4 percent of women who had received brachytherapy later underwent a mastectomy, compared to 2.2 percent who received treatment of the whole breast.

Researchers also found that there was a 71 percent increased risk of being hospitalized after the procedure and an 85 percent risk of infection. Other adverse effects from brachytherapy included a higher risk of radiation-linked side effects, including breast pain and fractured ribs.

"This is a helpful piece of information that I think physicians and patients can consider when picking treatment options," Smith stated. "From more of a health-services perspective, it's an interesting window into early results with a new treatment that was adopted before we had mature results from long-term, phase 3 randomized trials."

The researchers concluded that the ensuing mastectomies after treatment indicated the disease had progressed despite brachytherapy.