New ways of reducing breast cancer treatment risks


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Most people are aware of the terrible effects that cancer has on the body, but not everyone knows that the course of treatment is sometimes as dangerous as the disease itself.

Dr. Jean-Philippe Pignol, head of the radiotherapy department at Dalhousie University, is currently finishing his four-year investigation into finding ways of improving the way medical care addresses breast cancer treatment.

In a coordinated effort with researchers from Rotterdam and Santiago de Chile, Pignol advocates for a new technique to be widely implemented: accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI).

One of the risks surrounding the current breast cancer treatment is the high likelihood of developing secondary cancers from the radiotherapy. Because a significant part of the chest is exposed, a number of organs like the esophagus, colon, ovaries, uterus, thyroid are in danger of becoming affected. Extremely worrying is the possibility of developing lung cancer, which has an 80% mortality rate.

The sings so far are very promising. While APBI is reported to have the same effectiveness as traditional treatment, the risks are considerably lower, up to four times so.

Another advantage of this technique is the reduced time spent doing radiotherapy. This also translates into reduced scattered radiation that goes into the body.

There will always be a need for whole breast irradiation (WBI), to deal with more aggressive cases, but having a less harmful option is an important step towards personalized treatment.

It is expected that Dr. Pignol will present the results of his findings at a conference in San Antonio, Texas, in September. His hope is that both doctors and patients take into consideration the long-term health effects of all medical techniques.