—by Jeff Jurmain, MA
Treatment for cancer, as we all know, brings about more difficult symptoms than the cancer itself much of the time. But we have to do it in order to try and heal. But, since quality of life can diminish so much due to certain cancer treatments, it’s important for every patient to get the most appropriate therapy, rather than suffer side effects needlessly.
On this topic, cancer researchers will present a study in June to a meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology. What they found could save a lot of time, a lot of money and, above all, a lot of frustration for patients.
They found that older women who have breast cancer (early stages) don’t necessarily require radiation therapy. Instead, they can skip the potential side effects safely and take pills that keep tumors away. In the study, the drug “tamoxifen” proved that it could replace the need for radiation.
And all women with breast cancer need to know this important bit of information. The researchers discovered this based on 12 years of information on 636 women over the age of 70 who had stage-one breast cancer. This is the type that can readily be cured, which has not spread elsewhere in the breast or body.
Their tumors were removed during a “lumpectomy,” then split into two groups. Half the women started taking the drug right away while the other half received radiation treatment before taking five years of the drug. There is good evidence that tamoxifen reduces a woman’s risk of having breast cancer recur by half.
In 12 years, eight people taking the drug only died of breast cancer, while 12 who received radiation passed away. While many others also passed away, the vast majority died of another cause.
While radiation had some benefits, they were not significant enough to warrant radiation’s often-difficult side effects. This study was publically funded and not carried out by any pharmaceutical company.
What it means is that breast cancer patients should fully discuss all options on the table before deciding on a course of treatment. Many doctors do not do radiation, which further backs up the idea that maybe taking the drug is all that’s needed. However, note that this article is not meant as advice not to get radiation for breast cancer.