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New radiation technique can greatly reduce painful skin burns in women with breast cancer

Breast cancer patients who undergo a new radiation technique called intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) after surgery are three times less likely to have severe skin reactions from the treatment compared to standard radiation therapy, according to a study presented at the plenary session November 6, 2006, at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology's 48th Annual Meeting in Philadelphia. The study is the first of its kind to show how recent dramatic improvements in radiation treatments directly benefit patients.

"Using IMRT, we are able to dramatically reduce the painful side effects of radiation, thereby improving the patient's quality of life," said Jean-Philippe Pignol, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Canada. "Patients should be aware that breast IMRT has fewer side effects than standard radiation therapy and is now widely available."

The current standard of care for breast cancer is surgical removal of the cancer, followed by radiation to the breast to kill any remaining cells. The standard radiation technique uses two opposite radiation beams on the whole breast to target the cancer and can cause excess amounts of radiation to certain areas of the breast, increasing the risk of the patient developing sensitive, red, weepy skin that may blister and peel. The majority (80 percent) of severe skin burns occur on the breast crease, located between the bottom of the breast and the chest wall.

Using IMRT, however, radiation oncologists are able to control the intensity of each beam to better spare nearby healthy tissue, thereby minimizing the risk of too much radiation on a part of the breast and severe skin reactions. The treatment was able to significantly reduce this occurrence in women with large breasts, who are more likely to have severe skin reactions.

In this study, 358 patients were randomly assigned to receive either the standard breast radiation treatment or breast IMRT and were observed during and for six weeks after treatment.

Beth Bukata | EurekAlert!
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