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Scots hospital pioneers shorter treatment for breast cancer patients

© Chris Austin / DC ThomsonThe Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow.
The Beatson Cancer Centre in Glasgow.

Patients with breast cancer are undergoing shorter radiotherapy treatment at a Scots hospital after landmark research.

The revised programme, which can cut radiotheraphy treatment from four weeks to five days, comes after research collating 20-years of studies to suggest fewer but optmised radiotherapy sessions have the same success rate.

A pioneering study reported by the Institute of Cancer Research involving 4,000 patients at 97 NHS hospitals around the UK found women with early stage breast cancer can be successfully treated with fewer, but larger, doses of radiation.

The shorter treatment schedules are now being rolled out for patients at Glasgow’s Beatson cancer hospital where consultant clinical oncologist, Dr Abdulla Alhasso, said: “After years of UK-wide research, we are pleased to have found patients who need breast only radiotherapy now require fewer sessions to achieve the same effective and safe result.”

Some of the patients attending The Beatson live some distance from the hospital and travel time is considerable. Shorter radiotherapy treatment means that they can return home sooner. The planned changes have been introduced earlier because of the pandemic to allow patients to visit hospital fewer times.

Cancer patient, Barbara Campbell, from Erskine, has just started the shortened treatment. Barbara, a celebrant, said: “Anything which makes treatment kinder and shorter has to be welcomed, especially when you know that survival is the same. Like many other patients, I am shielding during my treatment. Covid-19 is an additional worry for cancer patients and each time you step out the door raises the risk of catching the virus.”

Barbara’s cancer was diagnosed after she developed a cough which refused to go away. She got the all-clear for her lungs but the diagnostic tests uncovered breast cancer.

“I was shocked but able to face it and remain upbeat. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade is my motto.”

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in women in Scotland and accounts for more than 28% of all cancers diagnosed, excluding non-melanoma skin cancer.

Treatment has been one of cancer’s biggest success stories and survival has risen in past decades. Five year survival for women diagnosed has increased from 66% for those detected between 1987 and 1991 to 86% today.