Brachytherapy: One-time treatment for early breast cancer

Brachytherapy uses specific devices to really plant radiation directly at the source of the tumor.

NEW YORK – After breast cancer surgery, women traditionally undergo external beam radiation, which means a trip into a treatment center as often as five days a week for three to six weeks. 

But for patients who live far away, travel can be a burden. 

Kathleen DePalo was diagnosed with Stage One breast cancer In December 2017. Making lengthy, repeated trips into Manhattan for treatment wasn't a good option. At the time, DePalo was caring for her chronically ill husband, John.

"I had the anxiety that I would have to leave him every day," DePalo said.

But Dr. Elisa Port, chief of breast surgery and Dr. Sheryl Green, radiation oncologist, who both practice medicine at The Mount Sinai Medical Center, New York, recommended another option.

"Brachytherapy, or the therapy we are talking about, uses specific devices to really plant radiation directly at the source of the tumor," Green said.  

"The devices to deliver the radiation have been perfected and refined, and I think we are giving it at a much higher level," Port said. 

Using a system called INTRABEAM intraoperative radiation therapy, the radiation takes up to 45 minutes and is administered right after the procedure. The therapy only has to be done once. 

"I woke up and my radiation was over," DePalo said.

Green and Port said the radiation therapy is not for everyone. Patients must have Stage One breast cancer and be postmenopausal. There must be no chance of microscopic areas of cancer in other parts of the breast. The patient must also have no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes.