Short-term radiation therapy is as safe and effective as the standard regimen for women with early-stage breast cancer, according to a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (2010 Feb 11;362(6):513-20).

According to background information provided in the press release, women who receive a 3-week treatment called accelerated hypofractionated whole-breast irradiation have a low-risk of side effects and recurrence of the cancer more than a decade after treatment. The authors also stated that it is just as effective as the standard 5-week course of radiation following surgery to remove the malignancy.

In a study led by Tim Whelan from the Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine at McMaster University, after researchers randomly assigned 1 234 women to be treated with either accelerated radiation or standard radiation, participants were followed for 12 years to determine if the accelerated whole-breast radiation was as effective as the standard treatment.

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The study concluded that a shorter, more intense course of therapy is as safe and effective as the standard treatment for selected women who have undergone breast-conserving surgery. The 10-year follow-up revealed that breast cancer returned in 6.2% of patients treated with the accelerated radiation therapy, compared to 6.7% for patients treated with standard therapy.

“This is win-win: shorter intense treatment is better for the patient and less costly to provide,” said Dr. Whelan. “We are now in the midst of further study on more intense radiation over an even shorter time.”