Brachytherapy in older women is linked to increased chances of breast removal and other complications compared to whole-breast irradiation therapy, reports a new study published in the Journal of American Medical Association.

The study group included more than 92,000 women aged 67 or above who had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer between 2003 and 2007.

Around 7,000 women had been treated with brachytherapy following lumpectomy whereas 86,000 were treated with whole-breast irradiation.

Lumpectomy differs from mastectomy as in lumpectomy only the tumor is removed. Patients who wish to conserve their breasts after the treatment opt for this procedure. In mastectomy the breasts are completely removed.

The researchers found that nearly 4 percent of patients treated with brachytherapy got their breast removed compared to 2 percent who were treated with whole-breast irradiation.

Also, patients who underwent brachytherapy had increased chances of developing infection or pain or fracture in the ribs.

The researchers found that 28 percent of women who got brachytherapy had some sort of complication compared to 17 percent of those who had whole breast irradiation.

Brachytherapy is a radiation therapy where a small amount of radioactive material is placed near the tumor. The radiation kills the affected tissue. This procedure takes very little time compared to whole-breast radiation that takes weeks to finish.

“Although it's very attractive at first because you are potentially treating a lot less of the breast and you're doing it in a much shorter period of time, the benefits may not be there. In fact you may see more patients having long-term complications,” Todd Tuttle, a cancer surgeon from the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, who wasn’t part of the research team told Reuters Health.

“Whole breast irradiation effectively treats those areas as well. The question has always been whether the use of these newer techniques has that same benefit of treating those silent areas that we know exist in other parts of the breast.” said Dr. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy chief medical officer at American Cancer Society.

Experts suggest that women must be given complete details along with risk factors for both therapies before therapy so that they can make informed choices.

According to ABC News, “The final answer on the appropriate use of brachytherapy is not yet in,” says Dr. Stephen Edge, chairman of breast and soft tissue surgery at Roswell Park Cancer Institute in Buffalo, N.Y.

The popularity of brachytherapy has increased tremendously. Compared to 12.5 percent of patients in 2007 only 3.5 percent patients had opted for this procedure in the year 2003.

The study author Dr. Benjamin Smith said that the results were “surprising” and "The decision of whether a patient was treated with brachytherapy or whole-breast irradiation was the single most important factor in whether a patient had a mastectomy," to Reuters Health.

Both the procedures increased likelihood of patients surviving in the next five year after the treatment. 88 percent of patients in brachytherapy group and 87 percent of patients in the whole-breast irradiation group were alive five years post-treatment.