Clinical data analysis suggests that elderly breast cancer patients have little to gain from radiation therapy, but many women continue to receive the therapy.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer in American women, and getting a mammogram on a regular basis reduces the risk of the cancer. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends that women between 50 and 74 years old should get a mammogram done every two years.
Many types of treatment are available for breast cancer patients, and radiation therapy is one of the most commonly used by doctors across the world. However, researchers at the Duke University re-affirm that doctors should omit radiation therapy for elderly women as it may be less effective.
Rachel Blitzblau, the Butler Harris Assistant Professor of Radiation Oncology at Duke University Medical Center, who is also the senior author of the study, suggests that it is a physician's responsibility to understand the treatment needs of a patient. A physician should analyze the ill effects of radiation therapy and weigh it against the potential benefits.
Blitzblau and her team examined data of a 2004 and 2012 study that compared breast cancer treatment options for women over 70 years. The researchers found that radiation therapy had limited effect on elderly women.
"The discussion at the time of the first CALGB report in 2004 was that we should consider omitting radiation for these women, because the small observed benefits might not be worth the side effects and costs," says Blitzblau.
The study also found that the side effects of radiation therapy in older women included discomfort, fatigue and changes in the radiated breast tissue.
Blitzblau pointed out that even though radiation therapy remains less effective in elderly women, about 66 percent of the patients continue to receive them. The latest study poses a challenge for physicians about the use of radiation therapy on elder women over the age of 70 years.
Blitzblau said that there should be clear communication between doctors and patients to ensure that only the right patients are getting radiation therapy. Blitzblau also suggests that existing processes regarding the need of radiation therapy for older women should also be reviewed.
The study also highlights that radiation therapy can involve a lot of money and the medical community is moving towards a financially efficient medical care and doctors should omit unnecessary treatments.