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Targeted Radiation for Breast Cancer May Be Overused: Study
Date:12/19/2011

By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

FRIDAY, Dec. 16 (HealthDay News) -- The number of women with breast cancer who receive targeted radiation to the breast after a lumpectomy has jumped dramatically over the last decade.

However, only about a third of these women were considered "suitable" for the treatment, according to criteria used in a new study published in the Dec. 16 online issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

But guidelines on which women should or should not receive this type of radiation treatment, known as brachytherapy, are only newly published and it's unclear what the findings might mean to current breast cancer patients.

Use of "accelerated partial breast irradiation using brachytherapy" has risen steadily since about 2002, said study author Dr. Jona Hattangadi, a radiation oncologist with Brigham and Women's Hospital and the Harvard Radiation Oncology Program in Boston.

Although brachytherapy is vastly more convenient (taking place over the course of a week rather than six weeks), the worry is that directed radiation isn't comprehensive enough to find and kill all cancer cells lingering in the breast as compared with the current standard, whole breast radiation (WBI).

So, in 2009, the American Society for Radiation Oncology (ASTRO) issued the first guidelines for the use of brachytherapy, which identified patients as either "suitable," "cautionary" (suitability unclear) or "unsuitable" for the treatment, depending on a number of factors including age as well as various tumor characteristics.

These authors rounded up data on 138,815 U.S. women who had been diagnosed with breast cancer from 2000 to 2007 and who had either undergone brachytherapy or whole breast irradiation after a lumpectomy.

Some 2.6 percent of women underwent brachytherapy, two thirds of whom were either deemed "cautionary" (29.6 percent) or "unsuitable" (36.2 percent) accord
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