Radiotherapy delays linked to small increased risk of breast cancer recurrence

In collaboration with Adfero

The longer older women wait for radiation treatment after undergoing surgery for breast cancer, the greater the chances of the disease coming back, an international team of scientists has warned.

Researchers from the US, Canada and Japan analysed national cancer records for 18,050 US women in order to study the association between the interval from breast cancer surgery to radiotherapy and the rate of disease recurrence.

All of the women involved in the study had been diagnosed with early stage breast cancer between 1991 and 2002, at the age of 65 or older, and had been treated with breast-conserving surgery followed by radiotherapy.

Women who started radiotherapy more than six weeks after surgery were found to face a small but significant increase in risk of local recurrence of breast cancer.

Publishing their findings in the British Medical Journal, the study authors concluded that radiotherapy should be started as soon as possible after breast cancer surgery to minimise the risk of the disease coming back.

They wrote: "There is a continuous relationship between the interval from breast-conserving surgery to radiotherapy and local recurrence in older women with breast cancer, suggesting that starting radiotherapy as soon as possible could minimise the risk of local recurrence."

Writing in an accompanying editorial, Ruth Jack and Lars Holmberg from King's College London said that the findings "should be taken seriously".

They claimed that healthcare providers "need to assess where potential delays are occurring and ensure that they are reduced, as well as ensuring equal opportunities in accessing good care".

Dr Jodie Moffat, health information manager at Cancer Research UK, said: "Radiotherapy plays a hugely significant role in the treatment of cancer. Although we have seen improvements in the amount of time people across the UK are waiting for their radiotherapy in recent years, we know that there are still some people who are waiting too long. This is not only distressing for patients, but as this research shows, could also have an impact on whether their treatment is successful. So it's important that all patients receive radiotherapy without delays.

"Cancer Research UK is calling on the governments across the UK to improve access to radiotherapy services. We know that radiotherapy can be complicated to plan and deliver, so we want to see strategies and resources in place to ensure that people receive radiotherapy when they need it and to reduce the unacceptable variations in radiotherapy provision across the country."

References

Punglia, R., Saito, A., Neville, B., Earle, C., & Weeks, J. (2010). Impact of interval from breast conserving surgery to radiotherapy on local recurrence in older women with breast cancer: retrospective cohort analysis BMJ, 340 (mar02 2) DOI: 10.1136/bmj.c845