One targeted dose of breast cancer radiotherapy could be 'as effective as full course’ - according to a new study

The trial found that a targeted therapy during surgery was just as effective as a prolonged course of treatment. 
(Shutterstock)
The trial found that a targeted therapy during surgery was just as effective as a prolonged course of treatment. (Shutterstock)

Giving breast cancer patients a single, targeted dose of radiotherapy could be safer and just as effective as a full course of treatment, researchers have revealed.

A long-term study has found that patients with shorter treatments were less likely to die from other types of cancer and heart disease in the five year period following their treatments, compared with those on longer term treatment plans.

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However, the study has since been criticised by cancer specialists.

What is targeted treatment?

Targeted Intraoperative Radiotherapy (TARGIT-IORT) which was developed by doctors at University College London (UCL), treats patients with a single, targeted dose of radiation aimed at the inside of the breast. This occurs only once the tumour has been surgically removed.

This treatment is administered with the use of a small device which is placed directly on to the cancer inside the breast and allows patients to receive radiation treatment at the same time as their operation.

Those who undergo a regular course of radiotherapy can sometimes face anything from 15 to 30 hospital visits. However those who are elected for TARGIT-IORT don’t tend to need to return for further treatment.

What did the study involve?

The initial study happened across 10 countries, between 2000 and 2012. It saw a total of 2,298 women with breast cancer treated with either targeted therapy along with surgery or a regular radiotherapy treatment course.

After 10 years, the trial found that a targeted therapy during surgery was just as effective as a prolonged course of treatment.

The most recent trial lasted half this time, and followed female breast cancer patients for a total of five years after their treatment.

What did the recent study find?

The researchers working on this recent study have now announced that the findings confirm the initial conclusion - that targeted therapy during surgery was just as effective as prolonged treatment.

The study also revealed that fewer women in the group being treated with a single dose had died from other causes - such as heart disease, other cancers and lung problems - after their treatment.

What criticisms did the study face?

However, while the findings may seem promising, Joanne Haviland at the Institute of Cancer Research, criticised the study, for omitting to acknowledge improvements to conventional radiotherapy treatments.

"Conventional radiotherapy has evolved considerably since the design of the TARGIT-A trial, including shorter treatment schedules and smaller volumes of breast treated, with greatly improved patient experience and extremely high levels of clinical cure at very low cost to the NHS,” she said.

Is TARGIT-IORT available on the NHS?

Targeted treatment is currently available on the NHS but only a few clinics have the necessary equipment.