Tamoxifen and Radiation Therapy for Early Breast Cancer

Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR
Last Modified: January 13, 2002

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Question

Dear OncoLink "Ask The Experts,"

I had a lumpectomy for a Grade 1 breast cancer of 12mm with lymph node clearance. I am now taking Tamoxifen and my surgeon and radiation oncologist are advising follow up radiotherapy, due to start within the next few weeks. My reading indicates this is probably beneficial. I would appreciate your comments.  


Answer

Lawrence J. Solin, MD, FACR, Professor of Radiation Oncology at the University of Pennsylvania, responds:

For patients with early stage breast cancer, breast-conserving surgery (also commonly called lumpectomy) is almost always followed by radiation treatment. Research studies have shown that the use of radiation treatment after lumpectomy markedly reduces the likelihood that the tumor will come back in the breast, thereby increasing the likelihood that the patient can keep her breast. The reason that for this is that studies from mastectomy specimens (removal of the whole breast) have shown that sometimes small cancer deposits are seen away from the primary tumor in other parts of the breast, and radiation is usually effective in controlling these other cancer deposits in the breast. However, if radiation is not used after lumpectomy, these other small cancer deposits can grow and cause a recurrence in the breast. Tamoxifen also reduces the risk that tumor will recur, but the best results are seen for patients when both Tamoxifen and radiation are used, even for small breast cancers.




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