August 3, 2007 - According to a study released in the August 1 edition of the International Journal of Radiation, Oncology, Biology, Physics, the official journal of ASTRO, women with early stage breast cancer who receive a newer type of radiation called intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) develop significantly fewer side effects than women who receive traditional radiation therapy.
Standard radiation treatment for breast cancer typically involves directing radiation to the whole breast and using wedges to compensate for so called “hot spots” or areas that receive greater radiation dose due to the shape of a women’s breast. Side effects that can occur include changes in the breast’s shape and feel, and skin irritations similar to a sunburn. These side effects usually will subside after treatment has ended, though long- term side effects such as changes in the color, texture or firmness of the skin and breast swelling can sometimes persist.
Doctors at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, MI, evaluated 172 women with early stage breast cancer as part of this study. The patients were divided into two groups; the first group (54 percent) received IMRT, while the second group (46 percent) received conventional wedged-based radiation and served as the control group for the study.
Researchers specifically looked for changes in the breast directly associated with radiation therapy. They evaluated the instances of dermatitis (reddened or itchy skin), breast edema (swelling) and hyperpigmentation (changes in skin color) on the breast and the correlation between these side effects and the type of radiation treatment given.
Overall, women who received IMRT reported significantly fewer breast-related side effects compared to the women who received traditional radiation therapy.
Of the women who received IMRT, less than half (41 percent) had notable reddened or itchy skin, as compared to 85 percent of women receiving conventional radiation. Only one percent of the IMRT group had breast swelling compared to the 28 percent affected in the other group. Changes in skin color were experienced in five percent of the IMRT group, where 50 percent of the women in the conventional group saw hyperpigmentation. Pain was equally attributed in both groups with eight percent of the women in both groups encountering pain as a result of the treatment.
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