16 December 2019

Research presented at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium suggests that partial breast radiotherapy could be as effective as whole breast radiotherapy in women with early breast cancer.

Many women will receive radiotherapy following surgery to prevent their breast cancer from returning. Currently, whole breast radiotherapy is the standard of care in the UK. This Phase III trial, called the APBI IMRT trial, followed 520 women with early breast cancer over the age of 40 for 10 years. Half of them received whole breast radiotherapy and half were given partial breast radiotherapy. The researchers wanted to understand if partial breast radiotherapy is as effective as whole breast treatment, they also evaluated side effects of each treatment.

The study found that both groups of women had a similar risk of their breast cancer returning. After 10 years, 3.3% of people who had been given partial breast irradiation had seen their breast cancer return compared to 2.6% of people who had whole breast irradiation.

Dr Kotryna Temcinaite, Research Communications Manager at Breast Cancer Now, the research and care charity, said:

It’s really promising that this long-term study suggests partial breast radiotherapy may be as effective as giving treatment to the whole breast for some women, which could help make a real difference to their lives after treatment. 

Radiotherapy is an important part of treatment for many patients and can help prevent the disease from coming back. However, it can also have some difficult side effects, and if we can safely reduce these impacts by delivering radiotherapy to just part of the breast without compromising its effectiveness, it would be a big step forward.

While the search for new cancer treatments often gets the spotlight, research to understand how we might be able to safely give patients less therapy is so important and we hope studies like this could help improve patients’ quality of life in the long-term. It’s exciting that these findings suggest partial breast radiotherapy could be offered to some women with early breast cancer, but with other recent evidence suggesting it may not be as effective for some, further research is needed to understand how we can identify those that still need standard radiotherapy to the whole breast.

In the meantime, anyone with questions about their current treatment can call our free Helpline on 0808 800 6000 to speak to one of our expert clinical nurses.