Monday, October 7, 2013

Breast Cancer and Radiation Therapy

      When faced with early-stage breast cancer, many women seek breast-conserving surgery, known as a lumpectomy. But surgery must be combined with radiation therapy to lower the risk of a cancer recurrence in most cases.

     Before the year 2000, external beam radiation therapy was a breast cancer patient’s only choice for radiation treatment. External beam radiation therapy is effective at eliminating cancer cells, but it can damage normal cells and cause side effects such as fatigue, swelling and skin irritation at the tumor site.

Cutting-edge treatment
      Breast brachytherapy, also known as accelerated partial breast irradiation, is another way to deliver radiation therapy. The treatment delivers a precise, highly concentrated dose of radiation from inside the breast, instead of applying radiation to the entire breast with an external beam. The temporary insertion of a treatment device and the positioning of a radioactive seed kills breast cancer cells that may remain after surgery.

How it works
     Soon after breast surgery, a surgeon places a treatment device into the patient’s surgical site. Using computer guidance, a radioactive seed is temporarily inserted into each catheter and removed after the procedure. The treatment lasts for approximately ten minutes, after which the patient returns six hours later for an additional ten-minute therapy session. The device remains implanted in the patient for the duration of the treatment, approximately five days, and is removed shortly after therapy.

     Meritus Health’s John R. Marsh Cancer Center has been performing breast brachytherapy for more than five years. It offers breast cancer patients and oncologists the newest breast brachytherapy devices to effectively treat cancer cells that could not be treated with first generation devices.

     “Every patient and tumor is unique,” explains radiation oncologist Dan Cornell, M.D. “By using a device with multiple catheters, we can shape the radiation dose and conform the treatment to the patient’s anatomy and tumor area.”

Benefit to the patient
     Traditional external beam radiation treatment spans six weeks. Breast brachytherapy’s five-day treatment makes it an attractive alternative for breast cancer patients.

     “This therapy saves the patient time and diminishes radiation side effects,” says Dr. Cornell.

     Candidates for breast brachytherapy include women 50 and older with early-stage breast cancer whose tumor is confined to the breast and measures less than three-quarters of an inch. Meritus Health’s John R. Marsh Cancer Center offers women in the tri-state area more options in their breast treatment than ever before by using the latest generation of advanced breast treatment devices that allow doctors to steer the dose away from critical structures.

By: Anne Gill

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