Treating Breast Cancer Early with Drugs, Radiation Lowers Odds of Recurrence

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According to a new Stanford University study, treating breast cancer early with radiation and drugs significantly lowers the odds of developing a worse form of cancer 15 years down the line. The news, experts hope, will reassure women who are diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer that a more positive prognosis lays ahead.

"We're coming into an era where treatments are going to be more tailored to the individual," said Dr. Irene Wapnir, chief of breast surgery at the Stanford Cancer Center and lead author of the study. "Women who were treated by lumpectomy alone, 65 percent of them didn't have a recurrence of cancer."

This study, which appeared in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, is the first one that reveals the long-term outlook for women that have been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). DCIS is the most common type of noninvasive breast cancer.

"There is this question around should we even be treating DCIS. We don't know the rate of invasive breast cancer if we do nothing," said Karuna Jaggar, executive director of Breast Cancer Action, a San Francisco advocacy group.

This particular report put together two different clinical trials that were started by the National Surgical Adjuvant Breast and Bowel Project in 1985 and 1991. Data from those particular trials were utilized to compare three separate treatments: lumpectomies, lumpectomies and radiation, and lumpectomies, radiation and five years of using the drug tamoxifen.

The results, which took into account 2,600 women for a time span of five years, noted that breast cancer deaths were the same for all treatment groups. However, women who only had the lumpectomy had a 19 percent recurrence of invasive breast cancer over the next years. On the flip side, only nine percent of women had a lumpectomy and radiation and 8.5 percent of the women who had the lumpectomy, radiation and tamoxifen experienced recurrence of invasive breast cancer.

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