Study Finds Unnecessary Radiation Treatment Still Used on Older Patients

A new study published in the journal Cancer, a publication of the American Cancer Society, found that the number of older breast cancer patients receiving radiation treatment has dropped slightly after an earlier study showed the treatment did not improve five-year recurrence and survival rates. 

The original study, done in 2004, was a randomized clinical trial that found older beast cancer patients who underwent surgery and received the drug tamoxifen were not positively impacted by the use of radiation treatment. 

The new study, done by researchers at Duke University Medical Center, used data from the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results Program, which contains information on cancer incidents and survival on 28 percent of the U.S. population.

The Duke University researchers studied data from 40,583 women ages 70 and older from 2000-2004 and 2005-2009 to assess the percentage of patients receiving radiotherapy, the type of radiotherapy they had and treatment duration. The data revealed that when the original study was done in 2004, about 68.6 percent of women over 70 years old who were diagnosed with breast cancer received radiation treatment. Only 61.7 percent of patients between 2005-2009 underwent radiation therapy. 

Although there was only a slim decrease in the amount of older patients receiving the treatment, researchers found that the use of radiation has changed slightly since the first study, when radiation was directed at the entire breast, to a more focused approach at targeting only cancerous areas. 

The results show that up to two out of three older patients are still receiving unnecessary radiation treatment. According to Medical News today, Dr. Rachel Blitzblau, one of the Duke researchers involved in the latest study, sited that because the original study was new data in 2004 and there is still no longer-term data, health care providers may be hesitant to change their approach to radiation therapy because it is a standard of card when treating individuals with breast cancer. 

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