Short-Course Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer Patients

October __, 2017

Melissa Mitchell, MD, Radiation Oncologist, talks about short-course radiation therapy for breast cancer patients.by Melissa Mitchell, MD, radiation oncologist

There’s good news for women who are receiving radiation treatment for early-stage breast cancer. The University of Kansas Cancer Center offers a new short-course radiation therapy that cuts treatments by half, reduces side effects and protects the lungs and heart from unnecessary exposure to radiation. 

We hope to expand this treatment to more breast cancer patients, with varying stages of disease, through a clinical trial in 2018. The trial would target patients diagnosed with breast cancer stages I-IV. 

Cuts treatment by half

Traditional breast cancer radiation therapy delivers low-dose radiation over the course of six to seven weeks. The shortened version delivers a higher dose of radiation over three to four weeks. It cuts treatment time by half and is just as effective, if not more so, than standard therapy. 

In addition, it reduces unpleasant side effects, such as lymphedema (swelling from fluid buildup in the arms), breast color and shape changes and radiation “sunburn.” In fact, radiation sunburn has been reduced by 60 percent in patients. Studies show the shortened therapy also results in less fatigue, allowing women to return to their lives and work sooner. 

Shortened radiation therapy should not be confused with proton therapy. Proton therapy involves the use of precision radiation therapy narrowly targeted to the tumor site to preserve surrounding healthy tissue. However, proton therapy has not been proven to be more effective than advanced radiation therapy. The new treatment relies on advanced treatment at half the frequency. 

Advancing breast cancer treatment

The University of Kansas Cancer Center’s team of radiation oncologists also discovered that a deep breath-holding technique spares the heart and lungs from unnecessary radiation. Patients take a deep breath just before the radiation is applied. This pulls the lungs and heart downward in the body, out of the way of the radiation. After using this technique for five years, we have found it significantly reduces radiation exposure  ̶  by 50 percent to the lungs, and almost completely cuts exposure to the heart. 

We specialize in breast cancer. We monitor the evolution of breast disease and the impact of various treatment options. We implement new treatments swiftly, giving us an expertise unmatched by any other cancer center in the region. 

Ultimately, short-course radiation therapy for early-stage breast cancer delivers a significant advantage to its patients. Overall, as many as 400 breast cancer patients consult with us each year. Many are seeking access to the newest, leading-edge treatments. Expanding the treatment to later-stage breast cancers will provide new hope.