Breast cancer scientists say less invasive surgery possible

Radiographer preparing a woman for a mammogram
Image caption It is hoped the study's findings will mean fewer women needing surgery

Some breast cancer sufferers could be treated with radiotherapy instead of more invasive surgery after a Europe-wide study.

Cardiff specialists who led the UK arm of the trial which studied 5,000 women found less invasive methods can be as effective as surgery for some patients.

It also means radiotherapy could be used instead to remove lymph nodes.

Consultant breast surgeon Prof Robert Mansel said it could mean fewer women requiring additional surgery.

The trial studied nearly 5,000 women to see if radiotherapy was equivalent to surgical removal of lymph nodes in the armpit.

Prof Mansel, of the University Hospital Llandough, and professor of surgery at Cardiff University's School of Medicine (Institute of Cancer and Genetics), was chief investigator for the UK study.

"This is a very important trial because it is going to change practice," he said.

"What normally happens nowadays is we check the lymph nodes under the arm when we do the first operation for breast cancer, and if there is spread to those to lymph nodes, conventionally at the moment, all the remaining lymph nodes are removed - it is a big operation.

"What the trial shows is you don't need to remove those lymph nodes, because you can actually treat under the arm area by radiotherapy instead.

"This is the first trial to show this conclusively. This is nearly 5,000 patients who have been studied. The rate of any problem coming back in the arm is actually tiny.

"It is in the order of 1% - and it is no different from doing surgery."

Prof Mansel said adopting a radiotherapy approach, rather than secondary surgery, would lead to swifter recovery with fewer side effects for patients - and cost the NHS less.

'Fantastic' research

"It has great potential for savings in the NHS, which is unusual, because we will do less surgery," he said.

"That means saving on expensive operating theatre time, and the patient is having radiotherapy anyway to the breast area."

Alison Essaye, from Tondu, Bridgend, had surgery for breast cancer four years ago, followed by radiotherapy.

She said: "I think it's fantastic what they've done with the research and the study.

"Because if you had to go through a second lot of surgery, that's going to be even more painful again.

"They have got good results for the future, for women and men - and we mustn't forget the men."

The trial started in 2007, and 85 patients from the Cardiff and the Vale of Glamorgan took part, alongside some patients from Manchester.

Chris Morris, a research nurse with the National Institute for Social Care and Health Research, said the study's findings could "improve future patients' experience."

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