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Breast cancer tissue may hold key to treatment

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The composition of tissue surrounding a breast cancer tumour is a key factor in determining whether a patient will need post-operative radiotherapy, according to research.

A Canadian study found that overall, 22% of breast cancer patients not given radiotherapy suffered a relapse over a 10-year period. The rate was reduced to 10% when sufferers received the treatment0.

Although breast tissue density was of “minimal” significance when radiotherapy was given, the difference was marked when those with high density breast tissue did not receive the treatment. Of those, 40% suffered a relapse within 10 years.

Dr Steven Narod, of the Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto said: “The composition of the breast tissue surrounding the breast cancer is important in predicting whether or not a breast cancer will return after surgery.

“The findings indicate that women with low breast density, who have a low chance of recurrence after surgery, may not need radiation but that women with high breast density could significantly benefit from the additional therapy.”

Maria Leadbeater, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care, said: “By being able to determine which women may or may not benefit from radiotherapy, it may be possible to offer more tailored treatment, as well as reducing the total number of women having radiotherapy.

“We would welcome further research… to fully investigate the role that breast density has in determining future treatment decisions.”

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