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A new study shows that almost two thirds of elderly women with early-stage breast cancer are still receiving radio therapy, although in 2004 a randomized clinical trial proved this therapy had no effect in curing early stage tumors.
The randomized clinical trial revealed that radiation therapy is useless in early stage breast cancer treatment. Also, it did not prevent cancer from relapsing after a 5 years in elderly female patients that underwent surgery and received the tamoxifen drug.
It seems that doctors refuse to let go radiation therapy since it has been considered a standard treatment for early-stage breast cancer since many years. A new study shows that doctors did not widely adopt the omission of radiotherapy in this kind of cancer.
Surveillance, the US largest cancer registry, shows that 76.5 percent of women over 70 received radio therapy since 2004 and little changes have been made in treatment practices since then. However, this national survey only monitors Medicare patients and we cannot be sure what happened in private medical facilities.
Dr. Rachel Blitzblau and her research team further analyzed the data Surveillance provided and found out that more than 40.000 female patients aged 70 and more had received lumpectomy, a medical operation to remove cancerous tumors located within breasts, during 2000–2009. The research team also compared the treatment techniques given before 2004 with treatment techniques after this year.
The researchers found out that before the randomized clinical trial in 2004, 68.6 percent of elderly women with early-stage breast cancer received radio therapy, while after 2004, 61.7 percent also received this treatment. However, after 2004 something did change – patients didn’t receive radiation to the entire breast, but short-term radiations only to particular spots.
Despite these changes, it seems that the 2004 trial results did not influence medical staff practices that much.
Dr. Blitzblau believes that doctors disregard the 2004 trial results because the trial only lasted 5 years, a very short time span to say if results were relevant or not. So, they would rather give some treatment over no treatment.
“Our findings highlight the fact that it may be challenging for practitioners to incorporate clinical trial data that involves omitting a treatment that was previously considered standard of care. If a treatment regimen has been working well, and data are new, there can be concern that de-escalation of treatment may ultimately be shown to worsen outcomes,”
Dr Blitzbau also said.
The American Society for Radiation Oncology also believes that women aged 70+ with early stage breast cancer should avoid radiotherapy if they don’t want to be exposed to the “potential acute and late toxicities” of this form of treatment.