Researchers at Northwell Health’s Feinstein Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset have found ways to increase the use of a type of radiation therapy for breast cancer that is as effective as traditional therapies but has lower toxicity levels.
Dr. Lucille Lee, senior author of the study and assistant professor of radiation medicine at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, said the treatment uses slightly more radiation per treatment but requires fewer weeks of treatment, reducing some symptoms such as fatigue and skin reactions — common side effects of radiation treatments.
“It’s a way to shorten the radiation therapy, but maintain the same effectiveness and reduce side effects,” Lee said. “It’s a win-win.”
Lee said hypofractionation, or the shortening of the radiation treatment, has been available for about 10 years in the Northwell Health system. Randomized clinical trials previously proved, Lee said, that the therapy is comparable to traditional treatment but is less toxic.
“Hypofractionated radiation therapy is underused in the treatment of breast cancer despite equal control, less acute toxicity and similar side effects,” Lee said. “We found that through the development of consensus-based treatment directives and peer review of cases by faculty in Northwell’s radiation medicine department that our adoption rate of this therapy increased to more than 73 percent of woman treated for breast cancer.”
In the study, recently published in Advances in Radiation Oncology, Lee said, the team of researchers implemented guidelines for hypofractionated radiation therapy, helping doctors and nurses provide treatment options for patients.
Lee said over the years, many patients have debated the two therapy options, and in most cases Lee recommends the shortened version because of the reduced period of symptoms.
“It takes many years to develop a new treatment program and then we face the challenge of the medical community adopting it into their practices so that patients can obtain the treatment,” Feinstein Institute President Dr. Kevin J. Tracey said. “Research like Dr. Lee’s, which identifies ways to break down these hurdles, is important to ensure patients have access to a therapy that has the potential to improve their lives.”