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Complementary and Alternative
Medicine: Fair and Balanced
considered for treating breast cancer
Brachytherapy represents a new alternative treatment option
for early breast cancer, and new study results are very promising.
By John Russo Jr./Vicus.com
VICUS.COM (24 May 2000) -- The word "brachy" comes from
the Greek word for short, or close. For men with prostate cancer that
is confined to the prostate gland, the option to position radioactive
isotopes close to the cancer, while sparing surrounding noncancerous
tissues, has become an accepted alternative to the surgical procedure,
A variation of this procedure has been under investigation for a
number of years to treat women with early breast cancer, and new
follow-up data on brachytherapy is
very promising. During the 53rd Annual Meeting of the Society of
Surgical Oncology, held in March 2000 in New Orleans, La., Robert
Kuske, M.D., from The Ochsner Center for Radiation Oncology in New
Orleans, La., presented the results of a pilot clinical trial that may
point the way to a new alternative treatment for breast cancer.
Breast cancer: the facts and the reality
Breast cancer is the most common cancer among women, excluding
nonmelanoma skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that
in 2000, about 182,800 new cases of invasive breast cancer (Stages
I-IV) will be diagnosed among women in the United States. It is
the second leading cause of cancer-related death in women, after lung
cancer. Statistically, one in every eight women in the United States
will develop breast cancer during her lifetime. This figure represents
average lifetime risk and may over- or underestimate risk for certain
Putting aside the cold statistical facts of breast cancer, the
reality of the situation is that breast malignancy is the most feared
cancer in women, the most self-discovered cancer in women and the most
written-about cancer in lay and scientific literature.
Some would say it also has the most controversial options for
Potential benefits of brachytherapy
Brachytherapy is an alternative to external beam radiation therapy
treatment: Instead of using external beams that pass through the
breast, brachytherapy allows radioactive implants to be placed inside
the breast at the lumpectomy site. This technique ensures the maximum
radiation dose is given where it is needed most, while allowing little
radiation to reach the ribs, lung, heart and healthy breast tissue.
Another benefit, according to Kuske, is an improved cosmetic
outcome because it is a non-disfiguring procedure and allows for a
faster recovery. The procedure also allows the radiation series to be
completed in about one week's time vs. six weeks with conventional
external beam radiation therapy.
Current status of research
Kuske is completing data analysis of 50 women (51 breast cancers)
who range in age between 31 and 84 years old. These women had
relatively early breast cancer, with three or fewer positive nodes and
tumor size of 4 cm or less. After follow-up ranging between five and
eight years, there have been just nine cases of tumor recurrence (less
that a 2% recurrence rate), according to Kuske.
Kuske estimated that if additional studies confirm these early
results, 40% of women who are diagnosed with breast cancer would be
candidates for brachytherapy. Additional trials are being developed
and a number of studies are taking place worldwide to assess the
potential role of this treatment as an alternative to external beam
radiation therapy as well as to assess the optimum radiation dosage
needed in each case.
John Russo Jr. is senior vice president of medical
communications at Vicus.com. He is a pharmacist and medical writer
with more than 20 years of experience in medical education.
American Cancer Society. Cancer Resource Center.
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