If you are experiencing a medical emergency, please call 911 or seek care at an emergency room.
Radiation therapy plays a critical role in preventing cancer recurrence and is often recommended for women with breast cancer undergoing a lumpectomy. However, traditional radiation therapy requires a daily commitment to drive to radiation sessions five days a week for up to six weeks. For women who play the role of wife, mother, sister, friend, daughter, business owner, employee, or a combination of any of those, life doesn't just stop after a breast cancer diagnosis. There are still refrigerators that need to be stocked, children who need to be picked up from soccer practice, and looming work deadlines that don't change.
There's another option that's faster, more convenient, and just as effective for women with early-stage breast cancer. Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), can help eradicate the disease for good with a single, high dose of radiation immediately following a lumpectomy. This revolutionary advance in radiation oncology offers many benefits to women with breast cancer over 50 who have an estrogen- and progesterone-receptor-positive tumor in the breast three centimeters or less. (IORT is not appropriate for all women with breast cancer, such as those with ductal carcinoma in situ or invasive lobular carcinoma.)
For women with “small” #BreastCancer, intraoperative radiation therapy is faster, more convenient, and just as effective as conventional radiation. On the #MedStarHealth blog, Breast Surgeon Dr. Marc Boisvert explains why: https://bit.ly/3thw7QC.Click to Tweet
1. Advanced radiation techniques in IORT lead to effective outcomes that match traditional radiation therapy.
Intraoperative radiation therapy uses innovative equipment to deliver electron beams, x-rays, or high-dose-rate brachytherapy directly to the cavity that remains after a lumpectomy. This eliminates cancer cells immediately after surgery, as opposed to external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) which may not begin until a few weeks after surgery. Studies conducted over the past decade show that intraoperative radiation therapy is as effective as external beam radiation.
2. IORT delivers radiation in one short session, allowing patients to complete treatment significantly faster than traditional radiation.
While standard radiation therapy is a critical tool used to treat breast cancer in combination with surgery and chemotherapy, it is not always convenient. A conventional radiation therapy schedule involves radiation treatment sessions five days a week for up to six weeks. This regimen typically doesn't begin right after surgery to allow recovery time before undergoing whole-breast radiation that can result in undesirable side effects.
In comparison, intraoperative radiation therapy allows radiation oncologists to deliver a single dose of radiation in the minutes following surgery to remove a breast cancer tumor. The short procedure takes 20 to 45 minutes while the patient is still asleep from anesthesia, which minimizes the repeated discomfort commonplace with traditional radiation. And, women can leave the hospital on the same day of their lumpectomy without needing to return for multiple visits after surgery. With intraoperative radiation therapy, breast cancer survivors can immediately begin their journey to physical and emotional healing upon their departure from the operating room.
3. IORT dispenses radiation precisely to the tumor bed, not the whole breast.
After the breast cancer cells are removed during a lumpectomy, the radiation oncology team positions the IORT machine at the appropriate location and determines the necessary dosage of radiation based on evidence-based guidelines. This one-time dosage is less than the amount of radiation used in EBRT. During the procedure, a radiation oncologist places a spherical applicator in the breast where the tumor was removed. Radiation is aimed precisely where the risk of cancer recurrence is highest. As a result, nearby healthy tissue is spared, and local organs, like the lungs and heart, receive less radiation than during traditional radiation therapy. For women with early-stage breast cancer, targeted intraoperative radiotherapy is just as effective as external radiation to the whole breast.
4. Women experience fewer side effects after intraoperative radiation therapy.
Uncomfortable side effects like swelling, redness, and skin irritation are common after conventional radiation therapy. In comparison, women undergoing IORT report better cosmetic outcomes with fewer side effects and less rigidity in the breast. Because radiation oncologists can dispense a high dose of radiation in one session rather than 30 sessions, the affected breast(s) remain softer with less swelling than after EBRT. In addition, the procedure doesn't require any additional recovery time after surgery or result in any added side effects aside from the typical discomfort to the incision site.
At MedStar Health, we were one of the first in the area to use IORT.
At MedStar Health, we were pioneers involved in clinical trials of IORT, and we remain one of few health systems in the region to use INTRABEAM® radiotherapy for women with early-stage breast cancer. If you have a patient who may benefit from intraoperative radiation, you can count on our multidisciplinary team of experts to deliver the latest advances in cancer treatment with compassionate care. Together, we can eliminate their cancer while protecting their quality of life.