New radiation option cuts time by two-thirds
By Valerie Gorman, MD, FACS, Breast Surgeon at Texas Surgical Specialists
If you receive a diagnosis of breast cancer, it can be overwhelming. You’ll have to sort through a lot of information quickly and make decisions about what treatment is best for you.
For many of my patients with early stage breast cancer, lumpectomy – removing the tumor surgically – is the recommended treatment option. But you have to have radiation after a lumpectomy. That’s part of the package.
The typical way to deliver radiation is called external beam radiation. If you have this type of radiation, you have a lumpectomy first, wait three to four weeks for the incision to heal, then have 30 radiation treatments – five a week for six weeks. It’s effective, but it’s cumbersome. Each visit takes only 15 or 20 minutes, but you have to go every day. The appointments can be hard to arrange around your work schedule and other commitments.
Radiation in less time
Now I have a better option to offer a lot of the women I treat. It’s called partial breast radiation, and it can be done soon after surgery, with appointments twice a day for just five days. The treatment process starts with lumpectomy, just like with the typical process, but I leave a catheter in the surgical site. Once I know that the cancer hasn’t spread to the lymph nodes and that the catheter is positioned properly, we can use the catheter to deliver radiation right to the location that needs it.
Partial breast radiation delivers a higher dose of radiation than external beam radiation does, but it’s more focused on the tissue where cancer is more likely to recur. So, there’s less risk of damage to the lungs, heart and ribs, and less blistering, redness, and thickening of the skin. There are several systems surgeons can choose from, and the one we use, called SAVI Brachy, gives your radiation oncologist a lot of flexibility in arranging your dosage and protecting your skin.
Two weeks to the finish line
If I operate on a Monday, I’ll know whether the lymph nodes are negative and the catheter is positioned properly by that Friday, and radiation can start on the following Monday. In just two weeks, the whole process is finished. You would be taking time off from work and your other activities after lumpectomy anyway, so it’s convenient to get your radiation treatments done then.
Studies have found that breast cancer recurrence rates for partial breast radiation are comparable to external beam radiation, and there’s less risk to other parts of the body. Most people are happy to have the treatment time shortened, and they do very well with it.
I offer this treatment in Waxahachie, so women can take advantage of the benefits of the streamlined treatment without having to travel to Duncanville or Dallas.