Breast Cancer Roundup: Radiation Therapy ‘Not as Scary,’ Patients Say; U.S. Death Rate Declines

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October 6, 2017

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The majority of patients who have radiation therapy for breast cancer say the treatment isn’t as “scary” as they thought it would be, according to a recent study by researchers at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Nine out of 10 patients agreed “if future patients knew the real truth about radiation therapy, they would be less scared about treatment,” according to lead researcher Narek Shaverdian, M.D., who is chief resident of radiation oncology at UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine.  Dr. Shaverdian and his team presented the study’s preliminary data this week at a meeting of the American Society for Radiation Oncology.  Medical research data is considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed medical journal.

The research team surveyed 327 women, with an average age of 59, who had received radiation while being treated at a UCLA breast cancer clinic between 2012 and 2016.  Of the women in the UCLA study, 82 percent had breast-sparing surgery prior to radiation.

The women filled out questionnaires between 6 months and 5 years after receiving either standard whole-breast radiation that did or did not include the lymph nodes, or short-course radiation after mastectomy, or partial breast radiation.

The researchers found that the women were most concerned about radiation damaging internal organs or burning their skin. A small number of the women worried about becoming radioactive, according to survey data.

But, according to Dr. Shaverdian, advances in recent years have allowed radiation oncologists to “spare critical organs, create an individual radiation plan for each patient and also deliver radiation in more convenient schedules.”

“When patients compared their experience to their expectations, between 80 percent and 90 percent found their actual side effects were less than or as expected,” he added.


U.S. Breast Cancer Deaths Decline

The number of women who have lost their lives due to breast cancer has fallen substantially over the last 25 years.

From 1989 to 2015, overall breast cancer death rates in the United States fell 39 percent, according to the latest research published by the American Cancer Society (ACS). This translates into 322,600 lives saved, the ACS notes in its most recent Breast Cancer Facts & Figures.  The organization updates the publication every two years with the latest statistics about breast cancer using data collected by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) and U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Advances in care and early detection are cited as among the reasons for the death-rate decline. Most notably, the report points out, was a big jump in the percentage of women aged 40 years and older who reported having a screening mammogram in the past two years. In 1987, 29 percent of women in this age group reported having a mammogram in the past two years, compared to 70 percent in 2000. This percentage has since dropped to 64 percent, according to data available through 2015.

A woman’s chance of getting breast cancer remains unchanged, according to the ACS statistics. A woman living in the U.S. has a 12.4 percent – or a 1 in 8 – risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime.

As of 2016, there were more than 3.5 million women with a history of breast cancer alive in the U.S.

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Embrace Tomorrow by Getting Your Mammogram Today
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