Researchers from the Weill Cornell Medical College in New York looked at the medical records of around 8,000 patients with Stage 1 breast cancer and found that one in five breast cancer patients ages 65 and older postponed radiation therapy or did not complete the full radiation regimen after breast-conserving surgery. Such behaviour resulted in the lapses that had significant toll on their health. Those who waited eight weeks before beginning radiation therapy were 1.4 times as likely to have had a recurrence or to develop a new breast tumor while those who delayed radiation therapy for 12 weeks or longer were four times as likely to have suffered a recurrence.

Further more, a truncated course of radiation therapy, defined as less than three weeks, instead of the usual regimen of five to seven, lead to an increased the risk of succumbing to cancer by 32 %.

Delayed and incomplete radiation treatment did not have adverse affects on patients with a precancerous condition called ductal carcinoma in situ.

The study author, Dr. Heather Taffet Gold, explained that care needs to be coordinated to avoid such treatment delays and lack of completion, especially for patients from a lower socioeconomic status. Additionally, patients need to understand the importance of going to all their treatments and going through them in a timely manner even though it takes a lot of time (every day, Monday to Friday, for several weeks) and effort and may be a big burden for the elderly population.

Patients should also be informed and educated about the importance of the treatment. They need to learn that timely radiation to the breast may not be just preventing a recurrence to the breast but also preventing any cells found in the breast from metastasizing elsewhere.