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So much care it hurts: Unneeded scans, therapy, surgery only add to cancer patients’ ills

By in Press Enterprise on October 25, 2017

By California Healthline

By Liz Szabo, California Healthline

When Annie Dennison was diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she readily followed advice from her medical team, agreeing to harsh treatments in the hope of curing her disease.

“You’re terrified out of your mind” after a diagnosis of cancer, said Dennison, 55, a retired psychologist from Orange County, Calif.

In addition to lumpectomy surgery, chemotherapy and other medications, Dennison underwent six weeks of daily radiation treatments. She agreed to the lengthy radiation regimen, she said, because she had no idea there was another option.

Medical research published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2010 — six years before her diagnosis — showed that a condensed, three-week radiation course works just as well as the longer regimen. A year later, the American Society for Radiation Oncology, which writes medical guidelines, endorsed the shorter course.

In 2013, the society went further and specifically told doctors not to begin radiation on women like Dennison — who was over 50, with a small cancer that hadn’t spread — without considering the shorter therapy.

“It’s disturbing to think that I might have been overtreated,” Dennison said. “I would like to make sure that other women and men know this is an option.”

Dennison’s oncologist, Dr. David Khan of El Segundo, Calif., notes that there are good reasons to prescribe a longer course of radiation for some women.

Khan, an assistant clinical professor at UCLA, said he was worried that the shorter course of radiation would increase the risk of side effects, given that Dennison had undergone chemotherapy as part of her breast cancer treatment. The latest radiation guidelines, issued in 2011, don’t include patients who’ve had chemo.

Yet many patients still aren’t told about their choices.

An exclusive analysis for Kaiser Health News found that only 48 percent of eligible breast cancer patients today get the shorter […]    

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