Most people receive 5 to 7 weeks of radiation therapy shortly after lumpectomy in order to eliminate any cancer cells that may be present in the remaining breast tissue. The combination of lumpectomy and radiation therapy is commonly called breast-conserving therapy. If chemotherapy is also part of the plan, radiation therapy happens after chemotherapy.
Two studies published in the October 17, 2002 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine showed that women with small breast cancers (under 4 centimeters) treated with lumpectomy plus radiation therapy were just as likely to be alive and disease-free 20 years later as women who had had mastectomies.
It’s important to know that recurrence can still happen with lumpectomy plus radiation. In the studies mentioned above, 14% of the women in one study and 9% of the women in the other study who had lumpectomy plus radiation had a recurrence in the same breast. However, local recurrences (confined to the breast area) after lumpectomy can be treated effectively with mastectomy, and these women were still disease-free 20 years after their original lumpectomies and recurrence treatments.