Study: New radiation seed implants could shorten breast cancer treatment times

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The use of permanent radiation seed implants for early stage breast cancer treatment following a lumpectomy is being investigated as an alternative treatment to whole or partial breast irradiation, according to a study published in the January 1, 2006 issue of the International Journal of Radiation Oncology*Biology*Physics, the official journal of ASTRO (American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology). The Canadian doctors who performed this study hope that this approach will radically decrease treatment time for certain patients, perhaps to just one day.

A lumpectomy is very common for women to undergo in early stage breast cancer. Afterwards, radiation therapy is often provided - five days a week - sometimes for two months. To shorten this time, an experimental technique has been used which makes use of temporary radiation implants which are delivered via a catheter twice daily for a week.

In this study, doctors wanted to see if it was possible to use permanent implants to reduce the treatment timeline even further. This approach, which is used to treat prostate cancer in men, uses implants that are close to the size of a grain of rice. Since they are not temporary, they do not have to be replaced every day, but rather deliver radiation to the breast area for a number of weeks until they were no longer radioactive.

"The main motivation was to see if we could reduce the burden of treatment for women suffering from early-stage breast cancer," said Jean-Philippe Pignol, MD, PhD, lead author of the study and radiation oncologist at Sunnybrook and Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. "The seed implants reduce the treatment to a one-time event compared to the current standard of daily treatments over many weeks. The seeds also reduce the amount of radiation the normal breast tissue receives, which lessens the chance of the patient developing problems that affect their post-cancer quality of life. The great thing is that the patient can go home right after the procedure and live a normal life while receiving her radiation."