Radiotherapy after surgery halves rate at which breast cancer comes back

In collaboration with the Press Association

Radiotherapy halves the rate at which breast cancer recurs in the 10 years after surgery, according to Cancer Research UK-funded research by the Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group.

The study, also jointly funded by the British Heart Foundation and the Medical Research Council, and published in The Lancet, collated the histories of all women who took part in 17 worldwide trials of radiotherapy given to patients after the surgery.

The researchers analysed treatment and other data on 10,801 women with breast cancer.

They found that, 10 years after diagnosis, 35 per cent of women who hadn't received radiotherapy had had a recurrence of the disease. But for those who had radiotherapy, just 19 per cent had their breast cancer come back at some point over the 10 years.

It takes longer for the effect of a treatment on preventing death to become apparent than does its effect on whether or not a cancer comes back. However, by 15 years after diagnosis, 21 per cent of women who had radiotherapy had died from the disease, compared with 25 per cent of those who did not undergo the treatment.

The authors conclude that using radiotherapy to kill small clumps of tumour cells in the breasts lowers the chances of the cancer reappearing at the original location, or spreading.

They added: "Screening, surgery, pathology, radiotherapy, and systemic therapy have all changed substantially since most of these women were randomly assigned, so the absolute recurrence reduction with radiotherapy in future patients might differ greatly from that recorded in these trials. Nevertheless, the finding that radiotherapy roughly halved the recurrence rate after breast-conserving surgery in a wide range of patients... suggests that it might also roughly halve the recurrence rate in future patients given breast-conserving surgery."

Professor Peter Johnson, Cancer Research UK's chief clinician, said: "This research confirms the lasting benefit of radiotherapy treatment after breast conserving surgery for women with breast cancer. It appears to be equally effective across all breast cancers, with most women benefitting when the risk of recurrence is highest - younger women and those with high-grade tumours.

"Radiotherapy is a vital cancer treatment. It's 100 years since Marie Curie was honoured for her work in this area and during this Year of Radiotherapy, ongoing studies such as this continue to provide valuable insights into the benefit for patients."

Copyright Press Association 2011


  • Early Breast Cancer Trialists' Collaborative Group (EBCTCG). Effect of radiotherapy after breast-conserving surgery on 10-year recurrence and 15-year breast cancer death: meta-analysis of individual patient data for 10 801 women in 17 randomised trials. Lancet doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(11)61629-2