Partial Breast Irradiation Versus Traditional Radiation

The University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing
Last Modified: December 13, 2011

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Why do I have to come for radiation every day for weeks? I have heard about some radiation for breast cancer that is done in only 5 days- what is that and is it just as good?


Gary Freedman, MD, Radiation Oncologist at Penn , responds:

The purpose of delivering radiation therapy in a relatively small dose once a day for about 6 weeks is to be effective at killing cancer cells but also protecting normal tissue. Delivering 1 large treatment could kill cancer cells but normal breast tissue cells equally well. The science behind it is that cancer cells being abnormal do not repair as well as normal cells, so that giving a small dose daily allows for better healing of the normal tissue. Our goal is long-term excellent cosmetic results as well as cancer control.

The newer technique of Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation given twice a day for only 1 week in a larger daily dose given to a smaller area of the breast - instead of treating the whole breast like conventional 6-week treatment, only the small area around the lumpectomy site with a margin is treated. This one-week form of radiation is available to women with very small, favorable, early stage breast cancers. Not all women are eligible. And clinical trials are ongoing in the U.S., Europe and Canada to see if the long-term breast control rates are the same with 1 week as 6 weeks in carefully chosen patients.

This question and answer was part of the OncoLink Brown Bag Chat. Series, View the Life After Breast Cancer transcript.

SABCS: Whole Breast Radiation Beats Partial Brachytherapy

Dec 8, 2011 - Accelerated partial breast brachytherapy, in older women with invasive breast cancer treated with conservative surgery, is less effective and more toxic than whole breast irradiation, according to a study presented at the annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held from Dec. 6 to 10.

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