Dramatic advance in treatment of breast cancer

One-off radiotherapy as effective as six-week course

Doctors have made a dramatic advance in the understanding of breast cancer, which could shorten treatment, save the NHS millions of pounds and mean that fewer women undergo mastectomies.

The discovery gives new hope to women facing Britain's commonest cancer, whose incidence has doubled in the past 40 years. Doctors cannot prevent the disease, but they are starting to reduce the impact of the diagnosis on a woman's life.

More than 45,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer every year and face the uncertainty, discomfort and anxiety of prolonged treatment.

For the past two decades the standard approach has been surgery to remove the lump, followed by a course of radiotherapy – lasting up to six weeks, to mop up remaining cancer cells – for women whose cancer has not spread. But there are long waiting times for radiotherapy because of the large number of women affected. There are also risks from the radiation dose unavoidably delivered to the lungs and heart, and many find the treatment exhausting.

In remoter parts of the country, women are choosing mastectomy rather than face delays and long journeys to their nearest radiotherapy centre, which may require 20 to 30 visits.

Now researchers have found that delivering a single dose of radiotherapy during the operation, directly to the affected tissue, is as effective as a course lasting five or six weeks delivered to the whole breast after surgery.

A 10-year trial involving 2,000 women in nine countries, comparing the two approaches, found the recurrence of cancer in those treated with the new method was no higher.

Jayant Vaidya, consultant oncologist and breast surgeon at University College London Hospitals NHS Trust, and the chief investigator on the trial, said: "The results change the way of thinking about breast cancer. They suggest that in selected patients the whole breast does not need to be treated and that the radiation dose can be much lower. The new treatment ... saves time, money and breasts."

Professor Jeffrey Tobias, who led the trial, said: "The reason it works so well is because of the precision of the treatment. It eradicates the very highest risk area – the part of the breast from which the tumour was removed. It is given in a single dose via a probe and surgery is extended by just 30 to 40 minutes ... The surgery and radiotherapy which would otherwise take around five weeks is done and dusted."

The results of the trial were presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago yesterday, and are published in The Lancet. The researchers estimate that by reducing the need for radiotherapy the new method could save the NHS £15m a year.

Josephine Ford, 80, was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2008 and was successfully treated with a single dose of radiation during surgery in May 2008. She said: "It simplified everything and made the process less traumatic. I felt once the operation was done that was it, and I would be up and running. It made life much easier."

Writing in The Lancet, the authors say: "The main factors women are concerned about are tumour recurrence, the need for radiation therapy and speed of recovery. As treatment with radiation can be completed at the time of the surgery, two of the patients' major concerns are immediately addressed. Furthermore, since the risk of local recurrence is similar to that with conventional radiotherapy, this approach should effectively deal with all three of the major concerns of women with breast cancer.

"In countries such as the UK where the waiting list for postoperative radiotherapy could rapidly diminish with use of targeted intraoperative radiotherapy, we estimate savings of around £15m."

Suggested Topics
The Edge and his wife, Morleigh Steinberg, at the Academy Awards in 2014
peopleGuitarist faces protests over plan to build mansions in Malibu
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Real Madrid
The comedian, 42, made the controversial comment following the athlete’s sentencing to five years for the culpable homicide of Reeva Steenkamp on Tuesday
peopleComedian's quip about Reeva Steenkamp was less than well received at music magazine awards
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    2nd Line server support - Microsoft certified

    £25000 - £30000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our large organisa...

    Newly Qualified Teachers

    £90 - £115 per day: Randstad Education Birmingham: We are currently seeking dy...

    IT & Business Studies Teacher

    £120 - £162 per day: Randstad Education Hull: ICT & Business Studies Teacher f...

    IT Support Engineer (1st and 2nd Line) - London

    £22000 - £24000 per annum + benefits : Ashdown Group: IT Support Engineer (1st...

    Day In a Page

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker
    Renée Zellweger's real crime has been to age in an industry that prizes women's youth over humanity

    'Renée Zellweger's real crime was to age'

    The actress's altered appearance raised eyebrows at Elle's Women in Hollywood awards on Monday
    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    Disney plans live-action remakes of animated classics

    From Cinderella to The Jungle Book, Patrick Grafton-Green wonders if they can ever recapture the old magic
    Thousands of teenagers to visit battlefields of the First World War in new Government scheme

    Pupils to visit First World War battlefields

    A new Government scheme aims to bring the the horrors of the conflict to life over the next five years
    The 10 best smartphone accessories

    Make the most of your mobile: 10 best smartphone accessories

    Try these add-ons for everything from secret charging to making sure you never lose your keys again
    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time against Real Madrid: Was this shirt swapping the real reason?

    Liverpool v Real Madrid

    Mario Balotelli substituted at half-time. Was shirt swapping the real reason?
    West Indies tour of India: Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Hurricane set to sweep Windies into the shadows

    Decision to pull out of India tour leaves the WICB fighting for its existence with an off-field storm building
    Indiana serial killer? Man arrested for murdering teenage prostitute confesses to six other murders - and police fear there could be many more

    A new American serial killer?

    Police fear man arrested for murder of teen prostitute could be responsible for killing spree dating back 20 years
    Sweetie, the fake 10-year-old girl designed to catch online predators, claims her first scalp

    Sting to trap paedophiles may not carry weight in UK courts

    Computer image of ‘Sweetie’ represented entrapment, experts say
    Fukushima nuclear crisis: Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on - and may never return home

    Return to Fukushima – a land they will never call home again

    Evacuees still stuck in cramped emergency housing three years on from nuclear disaster
    Wildlife Photographer of the Year: Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize

    Wildlife Photographer of the Year

    Intimate image of resting lions claims top prize
    Online petitions: Sign here to change the world

    Want to change the world? Just sign here

    The proliferation of online petitions allows us to register our protests at the touch of a button. But do they change anything?