NEW HYDE PARK, NY – When Lucia Vallario was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer last year, she opted for a shortened course of radiation therapy following her lumpectomy.
The 51-year-old oncology nurse at North Shore University Hospital and mother of three is among a growing number of women nationwide undergoing hypofractionated whole-breast irradiation, which requires fewer treatments using larger doses of radiation.
That trend is reflected at the Northwell Cancer Institute, where Ms. Vallario had her radiation therapy. Over the last several years, physicians in the institute’s Department of Radiation Medicine have developed a standard guideline for its use, providing this type of shortened therapy as a standard approach of care for women with breast cancer.
In 2013, 33 percent of breast cancer patients at the New Hyde Park Cancer Institute were treated with hypofractionation, and, so far this year, 57 percent have been treated. Nationwide implementation of the treatment is about 11 percent.
According to results from a pair of studies published in September in JAMA Oncology, hypofractionation is as effective as and possibly better than the traditional, longer, six-week course of care using smaller doses of radiation.
“The convenience of a shorter course of radiation treatment has huge quality of life improvements for our patients,” says Lucille Lee, MD, a radiation oncologist at the Cancer Institute who treated Ms. Vallario.
After having breast conservation surgery of her left breast in December, Ms. Vallario underwent three weeks of hypofractionation in February and early March.
“I went Monday through Friday and was in and out within a half-hour each time,” explained Ms. Vallario. “I went to work. I did everything I had to do.”
The only side effects she experienced were some reddening of the affected area and a slightly diminished energy level during treatment. Ms. Vallario is currently doing well and taking the breast cancer drug tamoxifen.
“Saving time without compromising outcomes allows patients to get back to their lives sooner and to spend less time receiving cancer treatment,” said Dr. Lee.