Targeting tumours directly with radiotherapy is as successful as treating the whole breast, the research led by Cambridge University found.
It means women could be treated just as effectively but experience fewer unwelcome changes to their breasts.
The treatment is easy to administer with existing radiotherapy machines available on the NHS, meaning it would be simple to roll it out across the UK.
Experts welcomed the results as ‘a major step forward’ in improving quality of life for patients without reducing the likelihood of them being cured.
Prof. Arnie Purushotham, Cancer Research UK’s senior clinical adviser, said: ‘One of the challenges when treating early stage breast cancer is trying to minimise the side effects that can have a real impact on a woman’s life, without affecting the chances of curing her.
‘This approach could spare many women significant physical discomfort and emotional distress.’
Prof. Judith Bliss of the Institute of Cancer Research said: ‘We’re delighted that the results of this trial have the potential to lead to a real change in the way selected breast cancer patients are treated.
The technique used here can be carried out on standard radiotherapy machines so we anticipate that these results will lead to further uptake of this treatment at centres across the country and worldwide.’
Researchers at 30 radiotherapy centres across the UK – led by the Institute of Cancer Research in London and the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre – studied more than 2,000 women aged 50 or over who had early stage breast cancer with a low risk of the disease coming back.
After surgery, the women were randomly divided into three groups and either received radiation to the whole breast as normal, to a targeted part of the breast where the tumour was originally located, or to the whole breast at a lower dose.
The researchers found that after five years almost all the women across the groups survived and did not develop further cancer – but those who had only part of their breast treated suffered fewer side effects.
Women who received the targeted treatment – partial breast radiotherapy – reported fewer long-term changes to the look and feel of their breast.
Around 1 per cent in every group relapsed or developed a more invasive cancer. Lead researcher Dr Charlotte Coles of Cambridge University said: ‘We started this trial because there was evidence that if someone’s cancer returns, it tends to do so close to the site of the original tumour, suggesting that some women receive unnecessary radiation to the whole breast.
‘Now we have evidence to support the use of less, but equally effective, radiotherapy for selected patients.’
Courtesy, Daily Mail