It's a process of battling cancer that takes weeks, many hours, often traveling to different locations. In short radiation can become one huge inconvenience.
But it does save lives and can prevent cancer from spreading or even returning. Luckily, for some cancer patients, a month's worth of treatments is a thing of the past.
Doctors told 46-year-old Pam Johnson they were 90 percent certain the lump in her right breast was cancer.
“Friday October 17 at 2 p.m., I got the phone call that the 10 percent didn't come through for me. It was cancer,” Pam Johnson said.
Treatment was weighing heavily on her mind. After a lumpectomy, she was in the clear for radiation.
“The standard radiation treatment for early stage breast cancer involves about 6 to 7 weeks of treatments,” Avera McKennan Radiation Oncologist Dr. Kirsten Erickson said.
Erickson says there was a better, possibly easier option for Johnson. It's called MammoSite, a treatment that's only been available since 2002.
“It's very localized and focal in terms of how the radiation is delivered. It's delivered to just part of the breast rather than the whole breast and so we're able to deliver a higher dose with each fraction,” Erickson said.
Radiation is delivered from the inside where the tumor was removed. And the doses are far and few in between. Instead of the traditional 30 to 35 treatments, MammoSite involves treatment twice a day, for about 8 minutes each, for 5 days.
“I had read about this MammoSite and I had it in my mind. That's what I was doing. Five days, five days it's done. It's over,” Johnson said.
But not every women diagnosed with breast cancer is a good candidate. The lump needs to be small and Erickson says it's preferred if the lymph nodes are not involved. There also needs to enough space between the catheter that admits the radiation and the skin surface.
“From the balloon to the skin surface you need to have a least a centimeter of tissue, otherwise you risk having some damage to the skin so we're very careful about that,” Erickson said.
Without the shortened localized treatment, Johnson would have had to drive from Milbank to Watertown once a week for six weeks.
"It's inconvenient but it's convenient versus the other alternative,” Johnson said.
Erickson says because the treatment is so new, there hasn't been a lot of long term follow up, but she says early results are very promising.
Voices of MammoSite
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