Radiation Should Be Scheduled To Patient’s Body Clock

Recent research out of the University of Leicester in England offers hope of reducing the harsh side effects of radiotherapy, or radiation, on breast cancer patients.

Genetic scientists from the University found that the toxicity of radiotherapy could be reduced if it’s administered according to an individual’s circadian rhythm, or body clock. Radiation uses high-energy rays to target and kill cancer cells, but the process has serious short- and long-term side effects such as pain, burning, and swelling.

Researchers found that 24 percent of patients experienced bright red skin as a radiation side effect when they were treated in the morning, but only 11 percent experienced the same when treated in the afternoon. The vast majority, around 90 percent, of operable breast cancer patients receive radiation therapy, and about 45 percent of those experience harmful side effects.

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But the side effects might be reduced if radiation were administered based on a patient’s personal circadian rhythm. Morning people may experience fewer side effects if they receive treatment in the morning, and night owls may fare better with afternoon treatments.

Researchers tested 1,007 study participants who were either undergoing radiation treatment or had already undergone radiation. Participants were tested for two gene variants to determine their circadian rhythm. Overall, researchers found that patients fared worse when treatments were scheduled in the morning.

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Depending on someone’s genetic makeup as a morning person or a night owl, radiation side effects might be reduced simply by changing the time of day it’s scheduled. Dr. Christopher Talbot of the University of Leicester and Professor Paul Symonds of Leicester Hospitals feel that cancer patients should go through gene sequencing to determine the best course of personalized treatment. “It’s an upfront cost but it could save a lot of people from getting bad side effects. Those people will be admitted to hospital for their reaction so the money might be a good investment,” they said.

More trials are needed to replicate and confirm the study’s findings. Dr. Kotryna Temcinaite, of Breast Cancer Now, was excited about the prospect of simply altering time of day to reduce side effects. “If we are to ensure NHS [National Health Service] breast cancer patients receive the best possible care, we must focus on personalising therapies to individuals—and the timing of treatment could be important in doing this,” she said.

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