Some early breast cancer patients may safely skip radiation treatment

Some early breast cancer patients may safely skip radiation treatment

Skipping Radiation for Low-Risk Breast Cancer: A Promising Option

Breast Cancer

To many women diagnosed with early breast cancer, breast-conserving surgery with radiation has long been considered the standard of care. However, groundbreaking research suggests that some women with low-risk breast cancer may be able to safely skip radiation 1.

Dr. Torsten Nielsen, a professor of pathology & laboratory medicine at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, explains, “If the tumors are low-risk, as defined in part by being caught early/small and in part by having favorable molecular features, the risk of recurrence is minimal even if you skip out on what has been considered standard-of-care radiotherapy” 2.

The low-risk group in question comprises women aged 55 or older with a breast tumor size of less than 2 centimeters (cm) that has not spread to their lymph nodes 3. Furthermore, their breast cancers have certain favorable molecular features, including estrogen and progesterone receptor positivity, as well as low levels of the protein Ki67, which controls the growth of cancer cells 4.

This molecular profile is known as luminal A breast cancer and is quite common in breast cancer cases today 5. A study followed 500 women with breast cancers matching these criteria for five years to assess the risk of recurrence in the same breast. The risk was found to be low, only around 2.3% 6.

Dr. Timothy Whelan, a professor of oncology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, explains that this declining risk is due to advancements in screening, surgery techniques, and systemic therapy 7. Dr. Whelan highlights the importance of combining clinical criteria, such as age and tumor size, with the luminal A subtype to identify this very low-risk group 8.

It’s important to note that radiation therapy does come with its fair share of side effects, including fatigue and skin burns 9. Therefore, the ability to omit radiation therapy for low-risk breast cancers has significant implications for patients’ quality of life.

Dr. Katherina Calvillo, a breast surgeon and founder of New England Breast and Wellness in Wellesley, Mass., emphasizes the significance of tailoring cancer therapy to each particular type of breast cancer 10. She notes, “This study demonstrates that patients with low-risk breast cancers could safely omit radiation therapy. One size no longer fits all” 11. However, she points out that patients should still have a discussion with their radiation oncologist, weighing the risks versus the benefits, to make well-informed decisions for themselves 12.

Dr. Marisa Weiss, chief medical officer and founder of Breastcancer.org, concurs that a conversation with one’s doctor should guide breast cancer treatment decisions 13. She comments, “This is the most favorable subtype of breast cancer, so no surprise that it was associated with a low risk of recurrence with endocrine therapy alone at five years of analysis” 14. Additionally, she warns that this subgroup remains at an elevated risk of recurrence beyond the five-year mark 15.

It’s worth noting that many options for short-course breast radiation are available today, making this alternative more accessible and reasonable for a larger population 16.

In conclusion, the ability to omit radiation treatment for low-risk breast cancer patients offers a promising alternative. By tailoring therapy to the specific characteristics and molecular features of each breast cancer, healthcare providers can minimize the overtreatment and potential side effects associated with radiation. However, it is essential for patients to have a thorough discussion with their doctor to understand the risks and benefits and make informed decisions about their treatment plan.

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  1. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  2. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  3. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  4. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  5. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  6. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  7. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  8. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  9. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  10. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  11. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  12. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  13. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  14. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  15. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎

  16. Denise Mann. (2023, August 17). Many Women With Low-Risk Breast Cancer Can Skip Radiation: Study. Retrieved from /cancer-information-5/breast-cancer-news-94/many-women-with-low-risk-breast-cancer-can-skip-radiation-study-830738.html↩︎