University of Cambridge

Minimising the side effects of breast cancer treatment

Treatments for breast cancer have improved dramatically in recent years but the side effects from radiotherapy can still be significant, causing discomfort in the breast and altering its appearance, potentially leading to survivors experiencing psychological distress.

Dr Charlotte Coles, who is part of the Cancer Research UK Cambridge Centre, has led research aimed at transforming breast cancer treatment, exploring the best way to deliver radiotherapy to early-stage, low-risk patients after they have undergone surgery to remove their tumour.  Her research showed that, rather than receiving whole breast radiotherapy, targeting radiotherapy at the original tumour site leads to fewer side effects – and the tumour is no less likely to return. Hospitals can implement this technique with no, or minimal, additional resources using existing equipment. The findings are already changing practice internationally. Partial breast radiotherapy is now recommended as standard care for selected patients by the UK Royal College of Radiologists. It is now included in the breast cancer guidance from the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, the health watchdog.

Further reading