A large British study of almost 4500 women treated with radiotherapy for breast cancer has found that a three-week treatment is just as effective as the more usual five-week treatment, but causes less side effects even though larger “doses” are given.

The study followed patients over ten years after completing treatment, comparing those who received 15 doses of radiotherapy over three weeks, with patients who were given 25 doses over five weeks. Professor John Yarnold of the Institute of Cancer Research in London said that giving patients their radiotherapy over three weeks was not only “more convenient and less tiring for patients”, but that the results were comparable to the longer treatment, which until recently has been the standard approach for breast cancer.

“We’ve shown conclusively that less can be more in breast cancer radiotherapy”, said Professor Yarnold. “These 10-year results reassure us that three weeks of radiotherapy is as good as the five weeks still used in many countries, with less damage to nearby healthy tissue, as well as being more convenient for women ā€“ shorter waiting lists and fewer hospital visits ā€“ and cheaper for health services”.

It may even be possible to reduce the treatment period even further, giving larger doses over as little as seven days. Kate Law of Cancer Research UK said that not only would these new treatment plans save women from going through the physical and emotional stress of extra hospital visits, but the ever-increasing number of long term cancer survivors has changed the way cancer treatment is viewed, with more emphasis on prevention of side effects.

Campbell, D. “Breast cancer treated just as well by short radiotherapy course, say experts”. The Guardian, Thursday 19 September, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/sep/19/breast-cancer-short-radiotherapy-study