Breast cancer patients receiving unnecessary radiation in the US

Breast cancer patients may be getting more radiation than they need, according to new studies. The studies suggest that a shorter course of radiation is actually just as effective at treating the cancer if it’s executed at an early-stage – rather than the conventional and more aggressive treatment options. The new research suggests though that the radiation treatments go far longer than it should in most U.S. patients.

The study explained that two-thirds of breast cancer patients who end up receiving a lumpectomy also receive six or seven weeks of radiation treatments. However, that treatment method – at least in terms of the radiation – is incredibly expensive, and ultimately unnecessary. The team behind the study suggest that a shorter, higher-dose treatment course is far more effective than the traditional pathway. This though isn’t the first study that has confirmed that very notion. In fact, it’s the fourth in just recent memory, and it’s even earned the endorsement of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.


Dr. Stephanie Bernik of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City pointed out that “women need to raise the issue with their radiation oncologist to see if they qualify for the three-week course of radiation.” She pointed out and emphasized the importance of patients being proactive with their doctors and engaging in a real conversation with them, to help spur the movement toward this less invasive treatment method until the medical field sorts out the timing and reasoning of their methods.

The studies have shown though that in older and younger patients who have early-stage breast cancer – that the less-lengthy treatment courses are becoming more common. The study showed that those who were over 50 and had early-stage breast cancer, and then those who were younger – and even those who had more aggressive forms of cancer – saw the shorter treatment method triple, and double in real-life application from 2008 to 2013.

It’s also worth noting that this is technology and a process that has been widely adopted in Canada as well. The study showed that 70% of early stage breast cancer patients received this treatment course as well. Interestingly, the doctors involved pointed out that “It is clinically equivalent to longer duration radiation in curing breast cancer, has similar side effects, is more convenient for patients, and allows patients to return to work or home sooner.” It simply means being more proactive, and more aggressive in treating the cancer.