LOS ANGELES — A new study led by researchers at the UCLA Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center found that treating soft tissue sarcoma with radiation over a significantly shorter period of time is safe, and likely just as effective, as a much longer conventional course of treatment.
Sarcoma, a rare type of cancer of the soft tissues (for example, muscle, nerves, fat, or fibrous tissue) or bone, affects about 13,000 people of all ages in the United States each year. Many people with a soft tissue sarcoma diagnosis receive a five-week course of radiation therapy (daily Monday through Friday). Four to five weeks after that, the tumor is removed in surgery. In this study at UCLA, a national leader in the care of patients with sarcoma, researchers used a condensed five-day radiation regimen that considerably cuts down the length of treatment and the time to surgery.
“Shortening the radiation therapy from five weeks to five days has been a very meaningful change for patients,” said lead author Dr. Anusha Kalbasi, assistant professor of radiation oncology in the division of molecular and cellular oncology. “Five weeks of daily treatments is a burdensome commitment for patients. The daily back-and-forth can be expensive and time consuming, and it can really interfere with work, school or parenting. So finding a way to safely shorten the radiation treatment is a significant advancement in improving the quality of care for patients with hard-to-treat cancers like sarcoma.”
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Researchers enrolled 52 adults at UCLA diagnosed with a soft tissue sarcoma of the limbs or trunk — where these tumors most commonly occur — that was localized and had not spread to other parts of the body. The participants underwent a condensed form of radiation therapy for five days, followed by surgery. The team then analyzed and followed the cohort for an average of 2 1/2 years.
They found less than 6% of the patients with at least two years of follow-up on the clinical trial had a recurrence of their tumor, which is on par with studies using the conventional five-week regimen, Kalbasi said.
“The main reason we treat sarcoma patients with radiation before surgery is to prevent the tumor from recurring where it was removed,” said Kalbasi, who is also a member of the Jonsson Cancer Center. “As an added benefit, in some cases it can cause the tumor to shrink. So far it appears that the five-day treatment is working just as well as the five-week treatment.”
Along with studying tumor recurrence rates, researchers also closely examined the severity of wound complications. Sarcoma surgery often requires a large incision to remove the tumor and can by itself result in wound complications. Adding radiation before surgery can slow the healing process even more. The team wanted to make sure the condensed five-day treatment didn’t make wound complications worse.