KeepHealthCare.ORG – Lourdes using new therapy for breast cancer patients | Local News
Battling cancer can be a long, emotional and exhausting process. From chemotherapy to radiation, treatment can often feel like a full-time job for patients.
Linda Osborne, a breast cancer patient at Lourdes hospital, knew all too well of the toll treatment could take on a family long before she had been diagnosed. Having watched both a sister and aunt undergo lengthy treatments for their breast cancers, she knew she wanted things to be different this time around.
Through intraoperative radiation therapy, a one-day, one-and-done treatment for early stage breast cancer patients, she got her wish. Things were different for Osborne as she received treatment for her cancer through the new therapy offered by Lourdes since February.
During this therapy, radiation is given as a single dose directly to the affected area while the patient is undergoing the necessary surgery to remove their breast cancer.
Dr. Daniel Howard of Lourdes said over the last several decades, standard radiation has been done through a process called whole breast radiation therapy. During this therapy, high-powered X-rays are used to kill breast cancer cells.
Howard said external beam radiation consists of multiple treatments over the course of about six weeks.
“About 10 or 12 years ago, they started looking at what we call partial breast radiation,” he said. “This was for favorable, early stage breast cancers.”
During partial breast radiation therapy, Howard said, a device such as a balloon or a catheter is placed inside the breast.
“We had several different devices that would do this,” he said. “Then we would go in for five days, twice a day, sliding a radioactive source into the middle of the device in order to do their treatment. Then we would have the patient come back in a few hours and do it again.”
Howard said this radiation therapy allowed them to radiate from the inside out.
“What we started looking at, probably five years ago, was doing radiation during the time of surgery,” he said. “This allows you to be absolutely certain that your radiation is at the site that it needs to be.”
Howard said there have been several ways to accomplish this, including the option of putting an X-ray source into the center of the wound, allowing the area that has just undergone surgery to receive radiation directly.
“It takes anywhere from 10 to 15 minutes or so at the time of surgery and it works quite nicely,” Howard said. “It’s the same principle as the partial breast radiation, where you are radiating from the inside out, but it’s one shot, one time. People like that.”
For Osborne, the use of the intraoperative radiation therapy was a very positive experience, mostly because she was able to sleep through the entire procedure and had no noticeable side effects afterward. And with Howard as her doctor, she said, it was a pleasant experience all around.
“It was a Sunday surgery, and I went home the same day,” Osborne said. “From the time I stepped into Lourdes hospital until I came out, I was treated so nice. I’ve been really pleased and would recommend it to anyone. I had no trouble at all.”
John Montville, executive director of oncology at Lourdes, said he is excited about bringing this innovative development here, stating that the nearest places that have offered the therapy in the past have been in Louisville or Nashville, Tennessee.
“Intraoperative radiotherapy has been around for several years now, but is really starting to expand and grow,” Montville said. “For women who qualify for this treatment, it’s an amazing advancement from what’s been done in the past.”
In the past, he said, a woman eligible for a lumpectomy to remove her breast cancer would have her surgery, go home, recover for a period of time and then be expected to return to the hospital Monday through Friday, at the same time each day for six weeks to receive external beam radiotherapy.
“I’ve been in oncology for well over 25 years and watching women as they carry on their lives with their families, jobs, children, grandchildren, and having this interruption of going to treatments is just exhausting,” Montville said.
He said multiple large, ongoing studies have shown that survival rates for intraoperative radiotherapy are equal or superior to the old way of doing things with external beam therapy.
“There are less side effects, actually,” Montville said. “Understand with external beam, you are using an outside machine that is basically shooting radiation into the body. That is done in a way that is very well-planned, but you have outside tissues that are being exposed to radiation that can cause side effects, burns, things like that.”
Since this radiation therapy is being done internally, directly at the site of the cancer, those risks are eliminated.
“It’s one of those wonderful advancements in health care where it’s all upside, there is no downside,” Montville said. “Obviously, our doctors went, got some very specific training and, of course, the vendor for the equipment was on site for our initial treatments to ensure that we were up to speed with everything.”
Montville said Howard has been pushing to implement this type of therapy at Lourdes for several years.
“I can’t say enough wonderful things about Dr. Howard,” he said. “He is a very skilled and committed surgeon with incredible expertise in breast cancer surgery.”
Montville said he believes there will be continued, ongoing growth nationwide of the treatment because women are beginning to demand it.
“Any time we can make a technological advance in health care that actually helps the patient, provides equal or superior care and makes it easier for patients to get that care, we win,” he said.
Howard said ideal candidates for this particular type of radiation therapy include patients over the age of 50 who have small tumors and favorable characteristics.
“There will be a few that for one reason or another will need to have additional radiation,” Howard said. “You can usually predict those folks ahead of time. These will be people with small, but more aggressive tumors.”
Howard said there is not much not to like about method of therapy.
“You’re not leaving something in the wound, so infection is not a big problem. It doesn’t treat as much of the breast as whole breast radiation, but that’s the whole point of the partial breast radiation. There is a lot less scarring afterwards with this. We are coming up with ways to do less toxic, less time-consuming, less traumatic surgeries, radiation, chemotherapy,” he said.
The five-year survival rate for breast cancer is now 92 percent, Howard said.
“Ours here at Lourdes is about 97 percent, which is really, really good,” he said. “We’ve got a really good team assembled. From the mammography, the radiologist, to the pathologist, to the medical oncologist, everybody strives to work together. I’m kind of the point guy, but it’s getting everybody involved doing the best that they can that results in our patients doing so well.”