The longer women with breast cancer wait to receive radiation therapy after having surgery, the greater their risk of experiencing a recurrence, according to research published online ahead of print in the British Medial Journal.
Here is some information about radiation therapy:
• It involves using ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors
• Radiation energy attacks genetic material in targeted cells, making it impossible for them to grow and reproduce
• Radiation therapy damages both cancer cells and healthy cells, but healthy cells are better able to recover from the damage
Researchers from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston looked at the relationship between wait times for radiation therapy and recurrence rates among over 18,000 U.S. women with breast cancer who were aged 65 or older. All the women received breast conserving surgery and radiation therapy but not chemotherapy.
On average, the women waited just over a month to start radiation therapy after their surgery, but nearly one-third waited six weeks or more. Waiting that long was associated with a 19% increased risk of having a cancer recurrence. Women were more likely to have to wait six weeks or longer for radiation therapy if they had early signs of cancer spread, other medical conditions, or a history of low income. Longer waits also occurred more commonly in Black and Hispanic women, among those who were diagnosed later, and among those living outside the southern U.S.
We spoke with Dr. Rinaa Punglia, the principal investigator of this study, who offered some further insight.
Today’s research highlights the need to provide radiation therapy as soon as possible after surgery for breast cancer.