Several Harvard scientists have published research supporting the use of radiotherapy as an equally successful but less disfiguring alternative to radical masectomy, the standard American treatment for breast cancer.
The study, which appeared Monday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that as many women survived breast cancer when treated with intensive, carefully controlled doses of radiation as when doctors used radical surgery to remove the breast and adjacent tissues.
Dr. Eric Weber, an instructor in the radiation therapy department of the Medical School and co-author of the report, said yesterday that the study, which lasted from 1968 to 1973, could not show follow-up survival rates even though it did demonstrate success at comparable stages of initial recovery. It often takes ten to 15 years to determine that cancer will not recur.
Weber said that radiation techniques used are "not well known in this country", but are widely used in Europe. The study was difficult to publish in a widely read medical journal because it "goes against the American Cancer Society's recommendation for the treatment of breast cancer."
"Radical mastectomy is not as radical as it purports to be," Weber said. While radical surgery, removes the lymph nodes from the armpit, cancer also spreads to the neck and internal mammary lymph nodes under the breastbone, Weber said.
Dr. Samuel Hellmer, professor of Radiation Therapy, said although he is unsure about the medical profession's acceptance of his findings, "that paper didn't have any trouble" reaching publication.