Two main drawbacks of radiation therapy are the frequency and length of the treatment. Treatment is usually given once a day, five days a week, for three to seven weeks. Techniques that shorten the course of treatment continue to be studied in clinical trials. The results of these trials will decide whether these therapies become part of standard care.
After talking with your health care provider, we encourage you to consider joining a clinical trial of radiation therapy for breast cancer.
BreastCancerTrials.org in collaboration with Susan G. Komen® offers a custom matching service that can help you find a clinical trial that fits your health needs.
Learn more about clinical trials.
Accelerated partial breast irradiation
Accelerated partial breast irradiation delivers radiation only to the area around the tumor bed (the tissue in and around the space where the tumor was removed during lumpectomy). This reduces the number of treatment sessions (accelerated therapy). Not everyone can have this type of radiation therapy.
Accelerated partial breast irradiation can be done by brachytherapy, three-dimensional conformal external beam or by intraoperative radiation therapy. These techniques are still under study.
Brachytherapy uses targeted radiation therapy placed inside the tumor bed. Implanted radiation "seeds" (interstitial radiation therapy) or a single small balloon device (intracavitary radiation therapy) can be used to deliver the radiation.
Some early findings suggest accelerated partial breast irradiation with brachytherapy may be as effective as standard radiation therapy in reducing rates of breast cancer recurrence [19-22]. However, follow-up time on these studies is short and the long-term effects of brachytherapy are not yet known. It is also not clear which women are the best candidates for brachytherapy and whether the cosmetic look of the breast is as good with brachytherapy as with standard radiation therapy [14,22].
Although brachytherapy is available at some medical centers and may be appropriate in select cases, its long-term safety and effectiveness are still under study.
Three-dimensional (3D) conformal external beam radiation therapy
Three-dimensional (3D) conformal external beam radiation therapy uses standard external beam radiation to target only the tumor bed.
Studies on 3D conformal external beam radiation therapy are limited at this time. Some early findings suggest the cosmetic look of the breast may be worse with 3D conformal external beam radiation therapy than with standard radiation therapy . In general, this therapy should only be given as part of a clinical trial. However, select women may be appropriate for treatment outside of a clinical trial.
Intra-operative radiation therapy
With intra-operative radiation therapy, a single dose of radiation is given to the tumor bed during lumpectomy. This dose of radiation is higher than in a standard radiation session.
Some early findings suggest that intra-operative radiation therapy is less effective than standard radiation therapy at reducing rates of breast cancer recurrence . Intra-operative radiation therapy needs further study before its risks and benefits are fully known. At this time, it is being studied mainly in Europe.
Our commitment to research
At Susan G. Komen®, we are committed to ending breast cancer forever by energizing science to find the cures and ensuring quality care for all people, everywhere. Our global research grants and scientific programs are essential driving forces for achieving this mission. Many of the world’s leaders in breast cancer research have been supported by Komen’s Research and Scientific Programs – including three Nobel Laureates. Komen’s funding has supported research that has resulted in a better understanding of breast cancer; earlier detection; personalized, less invasive treatments for what was once a “one-treatment-fits-all” disease; and improved survival rates. Learn more about the exciting research we are funding.
*Please note, the information provided within Komen Perspectives articles is only current as of the date of posting. Therefore, some information may be out of date at this time.