Removal of the entire breast is not the only effective way of treating the cancer. Recent data suggests that a combination of conservative breast surgery (removal of just the cancerous parts and not the entire breast) and radiotherapy can reduce the chance of recurrence by 16% over 10 years.
The study is an eye-opener for those reluctant to undergo mastectomy (partial or complete surgical removal of breasts) for breast cancer.
"The first instinct for women is to undergo mastectomy when diagnosed with breast cancer, but once counselled about breast conserving surgery, the majority would like to conserve the breast which is so important for self-image," said Dr Bhawna Sirohi, consultant medical oncologist, Tata Memorial Hospital (TMH).
"Most women who undergo mastectomy suffer emotional disturbance. Breast conservative surgery with partial radiation on the breast is very effective," said Dr Nagraj Huilgol, chief of radiation oncology, Nanavati Hospital, Vile Parle.
The data was collated and presented in Early Breast Cancer Trialists Collaborative group meeting, where a group of 620 breast cancer specialists from all over the world, including TMH shared data of its trials at Oxford University this September.
The study also shows that mortality of women after breast conservative surgery and radiotherapy reduces by about 4% over a period of 15 years. Radiotherapy added to breast conserving surgery can reduce risk of recurrence and of death from breast cancer.
Of the women detected with breast cancer in India, most are from urban areas. The data has been collated after taking into consideration 17 trials from across the world, where 10,801 women were studied.
"Even in cases like cardiac ailments, there is still a gain in survival with the addition of radiotherapy," said Sarah Darby, professor of medical studies, University of Oxford, UK, and one of the authors of the study.
The toxicity of radiotherapy has reduced a great deal as newer technology is more accurate in targeting the tumour site.