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A New Frontier in Treating Early Stage Breast Cancer

July 16, 2014
Breast cancer is a diagnosis that one in eight women will receive during her lifetime. It can be a scary and overwhelming experience, filled with doctors’ appointments, treatment plan discussions and important decisions to be made. For women whose cancer requires radiation in addition to surgery, treatment itself becomes a time commitment, as they visit the hospital daily over a period of weeks for therapy. GBMC is pleased to offer a new approach to radiation for certain patients. Through intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT), eligible breast cancer patients can receive their entire course of radiation in one session during the lumpectomy surgery. After the breast surgeon removes the lump, a radiation oncologist uses a special device to radiate the area where the tumor used to be. Then the surgeon completes the procedure by closing the site.

In addition to the convenience of consolidating weeks of radiation treatment into one session, initial findings show that the recovery time is comparable to that of undergoing lumpectomy alone. The risk of cancer recurrence is also similar between IORT and external radiation therapy.

“In a select group of women, IORT offers the chance to have a single radiation dose at the time of surgery,” explains Lauren Schnaper, MD, Director of the Sandra & Malcolm Berman Comprehensive Breast Care Center at GBMC. “It is an attractive alternative to repeated whole breast radiation treatments over an extended period of time. Not everyone is eligible for this type of procedure. The tumor must be a certain size and have favorable behavioral characteristics. IORT is not recommended for young women or those with ductal carcinoma in situ.” Albert Blumberg, MD, radiation oncologist at GBMC, elaborates: “The tumor itself should be deep enough in the breast to allow one centimeter between skin surface and the balloon surface of the radiation device. Ideal candidates are 60 or older, although those in their 50s could be considered if other criteria are met.”

There appear to be fewer side effects with IORT as well. Since the treatment occurs under the skin and within the breast tissue itself, skin damage and irritation is reduced. With the highly concentrated dose of radiation being precisely directed to the lumpectomy cavity, other surrounding healthy tissues and organs, including the lungs, heart and ribs, receive reduced radiation exposure.

“This technology is helping women to receive treatment quickly so they can get on with their lives,” says Dr. Blumberg. “We’re proud to be able to offer it as an option in their cancer care.”

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