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Additional Radiation Dose May Reduce Breast Cancer Recurrence (dateline October 3, 2000)

Women with early stage breast cancer who receive an extra dose of radiation may significantly reduce their chances of developing breast cancer again, according to research presented at the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology conference in Istanbul, Turkey. The results of an international clinical trial show that women who receive an additional radiation boost after breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) and standard radiation therapy (typically six weeks) may reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence by nearly 50%.

In the study, lead researcher Harry Bartelink, MD, PhD and his colleagues studied 5,569 patients from nine countries. All of the patients had undergone lumpectomies to remove their tumors, followed by standard radiation therapy. The women were then randomly assigned to either receive additional radiation therapy or receive no additional therapies.

After five years, only 109 women who received additional radiation therapy had a recurrence of breast cancer while 182 of the women who did not receive additional radiation therapy experienced breast cancer recurrence. According to Dr. Bartelink, the benefit of additional radiation was most significant for young women (under age 40). Women under age 40 who received extra radiation therapy may reduce their risk of breast cancer recurrence by 54%.

According to Dr. Bartelink, the findings of this study may lead to a major improvement in breast cancer treatment, and eventually, an improvement in breast cancer survival among younger women. Among the women who received additional radiation in the study, 91% were alive after five years.

Temporary side effects of radiation therapy:

  • Fatigue
  • Neutropenia (reduction in white blood cells)
  • Breast swelling or tenderness
  • Feeling of heaviness in the breast
  • Sunburn-like appearance of the breast skin
  • Loss of appetite

Dr. Bartelink and his colleague stressed the importance of breast self-exams and screening mammography.  If breast cancer is detected early, many women could have breast-conserving surgery (lumpectomy) and extra radiation instead of mastectomies (breast removal), said Dr. Bartelink.

Guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer:

  • All women between 20 and 39 years of age should practice monthly breast self-exams and have a physician performed clinical breast exam at least every three years.
  • All women 40 years of age and older should have annual screening mammograms, practice monthly breast self-exams, and have yearly clinical breast exams.
  • Women with a family history of breast cancer or those who test positive for the BRCA1 (breast cancer gene 1) or BRCA2 (breast cancer gene 2) mutations may want to talk to their physicians about beginning annual screening mammograms earlier than age 40, as early as age 25 in some cases.

Additional Resources and References

  • The radiation study discussed in this article was conducted by Harry Bartelink, MD, PhD of The Netherlands Cancer Institute and his colleagues. The study was presented at the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology conference on September 19, 2000 in Istanbul, Turkey. To learn more Dr. Bartelink’s research, please visit The Netherlands Cancer Institute website at
  • To learn more about radiation therapy, please visit
  • To learn more about the guidelines for the early detection of breast cancer, please visit