New Breast Cancer Treatment Gives Women More Hope

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By Marsha Hitchcock, Ivanhoe Health Correspondent

ORLANDO, Fla. (Ivanhoe Newswire) -- A new approach to treating breast cancer gives patients an alternative that cuts radiation treatments down from six weeks to five days.

This new minimally invasive approach, called partial breast irradiation therapy with brachytherapy, targets the tumor with precision and gives women with breast cancer more time to make decisions about their care.

"This new therapy gives hope to the some 212,000 women who we anticipate will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year," said Ellen Mendelson, M.D., Section Chief of Breast Imaging and a professor of radiology at Northwestern University in Chicago. "What we are looking at is a new way at administering the radiation part of it," she told Ivanhoe.

For the treatment, doctors at Northwestern University and Northwestern Memorial Hospital use an ultrasound to precisely guide a balloon catheter to the site of the tumor. After the cancerous breast lump is surgically removed, radiation is directed only to the portion of the breast surrounding the lumpectomy site. "This destroys the tumor but reduces the risk of damaging healthy tissue," Dr. Mendelson said. Because the target is smaller, brachytherapy allows for a shorter treatment regimen, averaging twice a day for five to seven days, compared to conventional whole-breast radiation, which may take six to seven weeks.

"It really gives the patient back a lot of time. What we hear from patients who've had six weeks of radiation is that they're so fatigued ... It really wears them out. But if you have an option to have it concluded in five days, it's very helpful to women," said Dr. Mendelson.

Before now, the balloon catheter was sometimes inserted during the lumpectomy surgery. These catheters would often need to be removed for several reasons, like if a tumor was too close to the skin or the patient didn't need radiation. Researchers tested whether or not placing the catheters days or even weeks after surgery would be safe. This would allow patients more time to consider what kind of treatment they really want, without the stress of going under the knife for the lumpectomy.

After testing the procedure on 75 women, researchers concluded ultrasound-guided placement of partial breast irradiation balloon catheters after the lumpectomy is safe, efficient and minimally invasive. The total procedure averages 25 minutes. However, whether the treatment works to ward off the recurrence of cancer in the long run is still not known.

SOURCE: Ivanhoe interview with Ellen Mendelson, M.D., Northwestern University in Chicago; Annual Meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago, Nov. 26-Dec. 1, 2006

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