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Breast cancer study questions treatment guidelines

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A new study questions current treatment guidelines for older breast cancer patients.

Seventy-six year-old Joan Safir was diagnosed with breast cancer last year. "I was a high risk patient, had been tested every six months and this time it came up in the MRI," Safir said.

Some doctors do not recommend radiation treatment  for  older women after a lumpectomy. Now a new study finds that some older women may want  radiation after removing the cancerous lump, because that may help prevent more surgery later.

"The majority of women that they looked at were benefited by radiation. it reduced the need for mastectomies," said Dr. Freya Schnabel with NYU's Langone Medical Center.

The study in the journal Cancer looked at 7,400 women age 70 to 79 who had a  lumpectomy. Most of them received radiation afterward. Researchers found within 10 years, about 6-percent of those women did not need additional surgery - while half that number - about 3 percent needed a mastectomy.

While certain guidelines suggest older women with early stage breast cancer may not need radiation after a lumpectomy, experts say these findings show some women will benefit from radiation treatment.

The study found one group of women that may not benefit -- women over 75 with low grade breast cancer.

"For those patients, the decision of whether or not to use radiation after a lumpectomy should be something that is discussed with their doctors," Dr. Schnabel said.

Joan Safir had chemotherapy and radiation after her lumpectomy. "I'm hoping that it will be enough and that there will be no reoccurrence," she said.

She continues to be screened frequently to ensure she stays healthy.

Ines Ferre - CBS News

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