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Study suggests long radiation treatment for breast cancer may be 'unnecessary'

A new report has found that two-thirds of women who undergo lumpectomies for breast cancer might be receiving "unnecessary" radiation therapy.

The research, published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that three to four weeks of intensive radiation therapy are just as effective as the more common five- to seven-week treatment. The shorter therapy schedule, which is more intense, is also cheaper, and most women preferred it when given the option.

Researchers from the University of Pennsylvania looked at data from four studies and 15,643 women, as well as guidelines from the American Society for Radiation Oncology, to reach their conclusion.

While two-thirds of women in Canada and Britain received the shorter version of the radiation therapy, The New York Times predicts that the shorter courses won't catch on among American doctors, as it will take time to "change ingrained medical practices, especially when a procedure has been used for decades." There's also no medical benefit, which means there's not much of an incentive for doctors to prescribe the shorter course — the benefits lie only in patients' time and health insurers' wallets.