Radiation therapy for breast cancer may increase risk of further cancer

Glow in the Dark

I know four women who have received radiation treatment for breast cancer.

Unfortunately, I expect you can probably make a similar claim.

That’s why the news of a new breast cancer study is so disturbing on two counts: 1) each one of us is likely to have more friends treated with radiation for breast cancer in the future, and 2) each of these friends will likely be at higher risk of developing cancer in the opposite breast.

Handle with care

Radiation is lethal. In fact, Marie Curie – the scientist who discovered radium and directed the first studies in which radiation was used to treat cancer – died from radiation exposure.

In the seven decades since Curie’s death, we’ve become so accustomed to the use of radiation therapy that many people may not even be aware of the dangers linked to radiation’s routine use.

In a recent Dutch study, researchers at the Netherlands Cancer Institute examined post- treatment medical records for more than 7,200 subjects who received radiation therapy for breast cancer. Results showed that younger women with a family history of breast cancer who received radiation after a lumpectomy were three and a half times more likely to develop contralateral breast cancer – cancer in the opposite breast.

The Dutch team also report that women under the age of 45 who received radiation after a lumpectomy were 1.5 times more likely to develop contralateral breast cancer compared to women who received post-mastectomy radiation.

In the Journal of Clinical Oncology, researchers wrote: “This finding should be taken into account when advising breast radiation…to young patients with breast cancer.”

Beware business as usual

When a breast cancer patient undergoes lumpectomy or mastectomy, her doctor will almost always recommend radiation as a cautionary measure to kill cancer cells that may not have been caught by initial treatments.

So…what’s not quite right with this picture?

I received an e-mail about this study from HSI Panelist Allan Spreen, M.D., who had this to say about radiation and x-rays: “It’s never been argued that x-rays cause cancer in living tissue. There even was an original outcry about ‘therapeutic’ radiation doses for just that reason. Even the medical profession has never argued the issue – they just maintain that the dose is low enough that the carcinogenic effects are too low to be significant (e.g., “You get as much x-rays from the sun…” etc., blah, blah. In fact, no x-rays from the sun reach the earth’s surface).

“The party line is that the newer machines use less x-ray exposure. However, nobody will go on record as saying x-rays don’t cause cancer – it’s been known since the earliest days of roentgenology.

“As an aside, that’s why I never let any of my athletes go to a chiropractor who insists on x-rays of the spine – young female athletes already have (from birth) ALL the eggs they’re ever going to make, so every x-ray of the pelvis is re-frying the same eggs, over and over…”

Tight target

So if you’re a cancer patient, what should you do if your doctor recommends radiation? Ask about proton beam therapy.

In the November issue of the HSI Members Alert, Managing Editor Melissa Hickle discusses proton beam – an innovation that tightens control of radiation treatment. A recent study suggests this therapy significantly reduces risk of secondary cancers.

HSI Members can access the November Members Alert at hsionline.com.

The HSI Members Alert is an excellent resource for cutting edge information about alternative healthcare. Learn how you can be among the first to find out about the latest groundbreaking advances that the mainstream media routinely ignores.

“Roles of Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy in the Development of Contralateral Breast Cancer” Journal of Clinical Oncology, Published online ahead of print 10/14/08, jco.ascopubs.org