Older women with early-stage breast cancer live longer if they have radiation after surgery than those who undergo lumpectomy alone, according to a new study by the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Researchers, who examined medical charts of almost 30,000 women, ages 70 to 84, found nearly 87 percent of those who had radiation and a lumpectomy survived at least five years and 65 percent lived at least a decade. That compares with survival rates of about 73 percent at five years, and nearly 42 percent at 10 years for women who only had surgery.
The median survival was 13 years for patients receiving surgery and radiation, compared with 9.9 years for patients receiving surgery alone.
The findings, presented at a meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology, suggest the combination treatment can extend the lives of many women with early, highly treatable breast cancer.
"Overall survival and breast cancer-specific survival were significantly better at all time points for elderly women with Stage I, estrogen-receptor [ER]-positive breast cancer with no lymph node involvement who received radiation therapy following surgery to remove the tumor," said lead researcher Dr. Randi J. Cohen, an assistant university professor and physician in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Maryland Marlene and Stewart Greenebaum Cancer Center.
"Our findings suggest that adjuvant radiation therapy should be strongly considered as part of the treatment regimen for otherwise healthy elderly women with early ER-positive breast cancer. A woman's age alone should not dictate whether or not radiation is recommended."
Breast cancer patients typically have radiation treatments five days a week for six weeks following surgery, to prevent the cancer from recurring. But past studies have provided conflicting results on whether the approach improves older patients’ survival odds, which has led to some doctors not offering women radiation after surgery.
"Breast cancer is a very common problem for older women, with more than half of the women diagnosed with breast cancer in the U.S. over the age of 65. Many of them have early-stage cancers, which can removed with a lumpectomy,” said Dr. E. Albert Reece, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “This large-scale study provides convincing evidence that adjuvant radiation therapy should also be offered to these older patients."