Faster Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Potentially Dangerous

A recent study revealed the fact that a faster form of radiation, called brachytherapy, which is used in order to cure early-stage breast cancer is not as safe as the regular radiation therapy. The new method seems to be very popular in hospitals all over the United States of America.

The study which analyzed Medicare records of more than 130,000 women who suffered from breast cancer, revealed the fact that those who chose the faster treatment method, had 50 percent more chances of suffering a mastectomy in the first five years after the treatment. It was a sign that the cancer managed to come back. The leader of the study, Dr. Benjamin D. Smith, an assistant professor of radiation oncology at the MD Anderson Cancer Center stated that the news was shocking.

What is brachytherapy?

With brachytherapy, a catheter is used in order to send the radiation directly into the area where the tumor used to be. Because the radiation is directly delivered in the desired area, the treatment is completed in one week. The regular breast radiation treatment can take up to six or seven weeks. Numerous women who suffer from breast cancer prefer this method because they do not have to suffer from the side effects of the radiation therapy for a very long time.

The research revealed the fact that 13 percent of the Medicare patients who suffered from breast cancer preferred this method instead of the traditional one. In 2000, less than 1 percent of the patients opted for this method. The critics of the new method stated that the main reason why it so popular is because it has been advertised in the media as being better and safer than the traditional method, without providing any proofs which could confirm the statement.

What are the costs?

According to Dr. Smith, the brachytherapy costs twice as much as the traditional method. The traditional radiation therapy costs $8,000, whereas the other one costs $16,000. The researchers analyzed the records of 130,535 people who suffered from early stage breast cancer. They discovered that 4 percent of the people who opted for the faster radiation treatment method, had a mastectomy in the following five years, whereas only 2.2 of the patients who had the traditional radiation method had a mastectomy.

It seems that brachytherapy also caused a higher number of infections because of the fact that the catheter is directly inserted in the breast. This leads to all sorts of infections, and on top of that it causes fat necrosis, breast pain, and rib fractures. Dr. Patel, the director of breast cancer services at Western Radiation Oncology, stated that at the time when the study was conducted, the brachytherapy treatment was less evolved than it is now. He admits that the method was not great in the past, but he stated that it has improved a lot in the past period of time. He stated that the catheters have been improved, and so has the treatment planning systems. As a result, the brachytherapy is much more effective as it was, according to De. Patel.

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