Two women, every fifteen minutes, will die of breast cancer. However, due to new drugs and new treatments, many, many more women will beat this disease. There is a new breakthrough that has women leaving the hospital in one day, surgery, radiation and all!
Joanne Duffy is a part of a survivors group; this group helped Duffy face her breast cancer. However, Joanne’s treatment was different than the other women. She is one of the first to have a lumpectomy and all of her radiation in one surgery.
“If a woman has a lumpectomy for breast cancer, the site where the cancer will most likely come back is the site where it was before,” Doctor Stephen Grobmyer, MD, Surgical Oncologist at The Cleveland Clinic Breast Center, told Ivanhoe.
That’s why immediately following the tumor removal, surgeons at The Cleveland Clinic are using Intra-Operative Radiation Therapy to specifically target the area where the tumor was removed.
“The radiation only travels about a centimeter, so it really has no chance of damaging normal tissue,” Doctor Grobmyer explained.
Traditionally, patients would start monthly chemotherapy infusions for a year after surgery, and then follow that by daily radiation treatments for three to five weeks. The Intra-Operative treatment cuts out all the radiation treatments for many patients. Whether chemo is needed depends on the size and type of tumor.
“It’s allowing us to tailor the treatment specifically to the patient and their type of breast cancer,” Doctor Grobmyer said.
Intra-Operative Therapy wiped out Joanne’s cancer, and now she’s focusing on helping other women.
“I feel like a woman who’s 71, but I feel like I’m 31,” Joanne Duffy, Breast Cancer Survivor, told Ivanhoe.
Because healthy tissue is not damaged, recovery time is quicker. In fact, some patients can go home the same day of surgery and they don’t have to come back!
Since this is still being studied long term, doctors are using it for patients with early stage breast cancer that are age sixty or older.
BACKGROUND: Breast cancer refers to when cancer forms somewhere in breast tissue, most commonly beginning in the lining of the milk ducts. Breast cancer can also originate in the milk glands, called lobules, and is considered to be invasive when the cancer spreads to surrounding healthy tissue from where it first began. With more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed in 2013 alone, breast cancer is one of the most common cancers in women. Men can also have breast cancer, but it is highly unusual and only 2,240 men were diagnosed with the disease in 2013. (Source: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/breast)
RISK FACTORS: Certain lifestyle choices and hereditary factors can raise women’s risk of developing breast cancer. In particular, women with the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have a significantly higher likelihood of breast and ovarian cancer. Women now have the choice of being tested for these genes so that they can take preventative measures. Starting your period before age 12 or menopause after age 55 can also raise women’s risk and the likelihood of breast cancer is naturally higher as women age. While these risk factors are out of people’s control, women can control other factors such as weight, alcohol consumption, and use of birth control. (Source: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/breastcancer.html)
NEW TECHNOLOGY: Intraoperative radiation therapy gives women a full dose of radiation therapy at the same time as their lumpectomy surgery. Before patients had to undergo a lumpectomy and then six weeks of radiation, they can now have it all done within a two and a half hour operation. Intraoperative radiation therapy is more convenient for patients and ensures that they receive all of the necessary treatment in order to prevent recurrence. Completing all of the treatment in one procedure prevents women from neglecting to follow through with the radiation treatments because of time, money, distance and access to a treatment facility. Intraoperative radiation therapy also has fewer side effects than traditional radiation therapy including redness, rashes, irritation, fatigue, swelling, tissue stiffness, and scarring. (Source: http://www.nmh.org/nm/intraoperative-radiation-therapy-for-breast-cancer)
Dr. Stephen Grobmyer, Director of Surgical Oncology and Director of the Breast Center at the Cleveland Clinic, talks about breast cancer treatments and the options women now have.
Traditionally, how would you treat breast cancer?
Dr. Grobmyer: The first thing we would do is evaluate the patient with a physical exam and then do imaging studies which would include a mammogram and ultrasound. Normally if there is a suspicious mass either on the exam or on the imaging studies, we’d do a biopsy and then we would make a diagnosis. We used to think of breast cancer as just one disease now we think of it as a variety of different diseases based on what type of breast cancer it is.
Usually the course of action is either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy?
Dr. Grobmyer: For patients with early stage breast cancer, that is having a small tumor confined to the breast, disease, surgery is usually the first step in treatment, Surgery becomes the first treatment and the options for the patient are to have either a lumpectomy, which is only removing the area where the tumor is in the breast, or to remove the entire breast, which is called a mastectomy with or without reconstruction.
The surgery sounds hard but that is usually the easiest part of the whole process for a patient because after that is when it really gets tough.