A study conducted at the Duke University Medical Center compared the survival rates of women age 70+ with early stage breast cancer based on the treatments they received. Some of the women received radiation treatment, surgery, and chemotherapy, while the others only underwent surgery and chemotherapy. The study ultimately found that those who received radiation treatment did not have a longer life expectancy than those who did not.
This raises a question–why are doctors still prescribing radiation treatment to women ages 70 and over who have early stage breast cancer? Side effects of radiation include skin blistering and fatigue, while radiation treatment can cause nerve damage and lymphedema in the long term. Still, after the release of this study, radiation treatment in women ages 70+ with early stage breast cancer only decreased by 7% (NPR, 2014).
The study’s lead researcher, Duke University’s Dr. Rachel Blitzblau, suggests doctors discontinue conducting radiation treatment on patients who meet the aforementioned criteria, as enduring the harsh side effects is not necessarily worth it in terms of survival.
Many argue that doctors are slow to adopt this change in breast cancer treatment, as they fear a higher risk for medical malpractice suits.