After Phyllis Nawrot had a lumpectomy for breast cancer, she and her doctor had an important decision to make ---whole breast irradiation or brachytherapy.
Brachytherapy involves placing a radiation pellet or seed in the breast after lumpectomy to treat any hidden cancer that could be in the breast after surgery. Brachytherapy affects less breast tissue and requires a shorter course of treatment. Whole breast radiation involves using an external radiation beam and daily treatments for up to seven weeks.
Dr. Benjamin Smith of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center and other researchers studied Medicare claims of more than 92,000 women diagnosed with breast cancer between 2003 and 2007. Almost 7,000 were treated with brachytherapy and more than 85,000 with whole breast irradiation.
"Women treated with brachytherapy had approximately twice the risk of losing their breast within five years of diagnosis compared to women treated with whole breast irradiation," says Dr. Smith. He adds that women who had brachytherapy were also more likely suffer complications such as breast infection, bleeding, wound breakdown or fluid collection.
Phyllis recently completed whole breast irradiation treatment. "I went for my mammogram the other day and they said everything looked good, correct."
According to Dr. Smith, "some of the tradeoffs between brachytherapy and whole breast irradiation may be a little bit more complex than were previously appreciated and it's important for women to know these potential limitations when they're choosing the best treatment for them."
Researchers point out that the survival rate was the same no matter which treatment the women had.