(08/28/12) - A precision radiation treatment may spare a lot of breast cancer patients at least some suffering. This therapy also gets the job done in a lot less time.
Once diagnosed, many patients undergo lumpectomy to remove the cancer. That is often followed by weeks of radiation, to make sure any cancer cells left behind are killed. This newer, targeted technique may make the whole process shorter and less painful.
Nina Baratiak is one of the 200,000 women who will be told she has breast cancer this year. "I had a tumor in my left breast. My brain just shut down, like what? Really?"
After her lumpectomy, Nina decided to try a radiation treatment called brachytherapy.
"Brachytherapy is a much more precise treatment. It delivers radiation right to the area at risk, right after surgery," says radiation oncologist, Dr. Akesh Patel.
Traditionally, cancer patients undergo external beam radiation therapy to treat the whole breast. It is 15 minutes, five days a week for six weeks. The treatment can cause damage to nearby skin and tissues.
Brachytherapy, Patel says, is more targeted, delivering radiation from the inside out, 10 minutes a day, for just five days. "It really hones in to that area and preserves some of that healthy tissue."
At the doctor's office, a radiation seed is fed through a catheter-like device, into the area where the tumor was removed. This allows doctors to precisely program how much radiation is given and when. While it takes a lot less time, studies show the recurrence risk for many women treated with brachytherapy is the same as those who go through whole breast radiation.
Nina is almost a year out from surgery and is cancer free.
Brachytherapy is not brand new, doctors have been perfecting it for decades. The treatment is not for every patient - it works best on women with early stage breast cancer. Brachytherapy is also an option for prostate cancer.
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