(CBS) Does radiation really benefit breast cancer patients? New research shows that women who receive radiation after undergoing lumpectomy live longer and are less likely to experience a recurrence of cancer.
Researchers analyzed the results of several studies involving nearly 11,000 breast cancer patients who had undergone "breast-conserving" surgery (rather than mastectomy) and found that post-operative radiation reduced the risk for recurrence over the next decade from 35 percent to 19 percent.
For women who chose to forgo radiation, the risk of death from breast cancer in the 15 years after treatment was found to be 25.2 percent - as compared to 21.4 percent for women who had radiation, the New York Times reported.
"These data reinforce the fact that the recurrence rate is reduced for the whole of the first decade," study author Dr. Sarah C. Darby, a professor of medical statistics at the Unversity of Oxford in England, told the Times. "That's not been so clear. It's not just for a year or the first few, but substantially reduced for a full decade."
Radiation therapy, a.k.a. radiotherapy, has long a part of treatment for breast cancer and other cancers - the idea being that the radiation can help destroy tumor cells that aren't removed via surgery or killed by chemotherapy.
But some doctors and breast cancer patients had wondered whether radiation was worthwhile. Earlier studies had shown that radiation could damage the heart and raise breast cancer patients' risk for dying of heart disease, the Times reported. And it wasn't clear that radiation was particularly important for long-term survival.
"Until 2005, the prevailing attitude in the U.S. was that radiation did not have an impact on improving long-term survival and was strictly to reduce local recurrence," Dr. Jay Harris, chairman of radiation oncology at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, told HealthDay.
The study was published in the English medical journal Lancet.