For women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, preventing reoccurrence and preventing the spread of disease are top priorities. A highly effective way of treating breast cancer and preventing reoccurrence is the use of targeted radiotherapy after lumpectomy. While this has become a gold standard in treating most patients with breast cancer, new research is showing that for a specific demographic, traditional radiation therapy raises the risk for secondary cancers including lung and esophageal. The risks are significantly higher in breast cancer patients with a history of smoking.
Lung Cancer in Breast Cancer Patients
In a recently published study, it was found that smokers have a disproportionate risk of dying from lung cancer following breast cancer radiation therapy. The research was conducted between 2010 and 2015 and patients were randomly analyzed based on surgery and radiation or surgery alone. Modern breast cancer radiation therapy techniques have the reputation of avoiding exposure to surrounding tissues and organs, so it was disappointing to learn that smokers with breast cancer that are receiving this type of treatment were more likely to be diagnosed with lung cancer, leukemia, esophageal cancer, and heart disease.
Results of the Study
When treating these patients, extreme care must be exercised to avoid unintentional exposure to the lungs. The study singles out the risk of modern radiation therapy for long term smokers and concludes that the risks of complications from radiotherapy outweigh the benefits for this group of patients.
According to an oncologist at the University of Oxford and lead author of the study:
- Non-smokers have a 0.5% risk of death from the side effects of modern radiation therapy
- Smokers have a 5% risk of death from the side effects of modern radiation therapy
- It is wise for breast cancer patients to stop smoking at the same time as receiving radiotherapy to avoid the risks of developing lung cancer and heart disease
New Treatment Options for Smoking Breast Cancer Patients
There are certain types of treatment options that can virtually eliminate any exposure to the lungs. The two types are proton therapy and AccuBoost.
Proton therapy is able to localize the treatment and precisely target the tumor. For breast cancer patients who smoke, it is important to minimize lung exposure to radiation. Proton therapy releases all of its energy at the tumor site, thereby reducing damage and exposure to surrounding areas.
AccuBoost is also able to avoid radiation to the lungs for breast cancer patients who smoke. It is a type of breast radiotherapy that uses real-time mammogram technology to pinpoint the lumpectomy site. The treatment delivers a high or “boost” dose of radiation to the tumor cavity margin while protecting the surrounding healthy tissue from unnecessary radiation.
Ackerman Cancer Center provides both these types of treatment for breast cancer to aid patients in deciding which option best suits their individual cancer case. For more information on proton therapy or AccuBoost, please visit our website or contact us at (904) 880-5522 to speak to the new patient coordinator.