Internet Tool Can Help Breast Cancer Patients Decide if They Need Radiation Treatment


breast cancerPhiladelphia -- Women who undergo surgery for breast cancer may soon be able to use a Web-based tool to find out whether they will benefit from radiation treatment, researchers report.

The user-friendly tool predicts the risk of cancer coming back in the same breast over the next 10 years in women who undergo breast-conserving surgery, or lumpectomy, says researcher Mona Sanghani, MD. She is a cancer doctor at Tufts-New England Medical Center in Boston.

For women with early-stage breast cancer, standard treatment involves breast-conserving surgery followed by radiation therapy to the breast over a six- to eight-week period to kill any remaining cancer cells.

"But if the risk of breast cancer recurrence is low, [women and their doctors] can then consider deferring radiation treatment," Sanghani tells WebMD.

While an early version of the tool is already online, Sanghani says it is currently intended for use only by health care professionals.

"It still needs to be validated before it's ready for prime time," she says, adding that she hopes the final version will be online within a year.

The model was unveiled here at the annual meeting of the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology.

Weighing All the Factors

To develop the tool, the researchers developed a formula that takes into account all of the risk factors associated with breast cancer coming back in the same breast after breast-conserving surgery. These factors include age at the time of treatment, the size and aggressiveness of the cancer, spread to nearby vessels, whether any cancer cells were left behind after surgery, and the use of chemotherapy or tamoxifen therapy.

"You plug in all the information and it may show that you have a 10% chance of breast cancer coming back without radiation therapy and a 5% chance with radiation. Or there may be a 10% chance without radiation and a 30% chance with it," Sanghani says.

In early tests, the model showed that "young women with big tumors that are aggressive under the microscope and who are not getting chemotherapy or tamoxifen will be at high risk of recurrence in the same breast without radiation," she says.

Sanghani says that even when the final version is up and running, women shouldn't use the information to make a decision on their own. Rather, "patients can bring this up with their physicians and use the information to weigh the benefits of radiation treatment," she says.

Jean-Philippe Pignol, MD, a breast cancer researcher at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, and a speaker at the meeting, says a tool like this is desperately needed.

"Patients like to go online and try to figure out what treatments they need," he tells WebMD. "But they often go to sites that are not of good quality. This tool offers accurate, genuine, and important information."



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