NEW YORK CITY – Cancer treatment can be a lengthy process that involves several visits to the clinic.
After breast cancer surgery, women traditionally undergo external beam radiation. That can mean a trip into a treatment center as often as five days a week for three to six weeks.
That can be a whole new burden for patients like Kathleen DePalo.
"I was never one for self-examination, and that was a big mistake."
In December 2017, Kathleen was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer.
One in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.
Making lengthy, repeated trips into Manhattan for treatment wasn't a good option. At the time Kathleen was caring for her chronically ill husband John.
"I had the anxiety that I would have to leave him every day."
But surgical oncologist Elisa Port and radiation oncologist Sheryl Green 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," explained Dr. Sheryl Green, Radiation Oncologist at the Mount Sinai Medical Center
"The devices to deliver the radiation have been perfected and refined and I think we are giving it at a much higher level," said Dr. Elisa Port, Mount Sinai Medical's Chief of Breast Surgery.
Using a system called intrabeam intraoperative radiation therapy the radiation takes up to 45 minutes and is administered right after the procedure.
The goal is to limit side effects of radiation to normal tissue.
It only has to be done once.
"I woke up and my radiation was over," Kathleen remembered.
Doctors Green and Port say the radiation therapy is not for everyone.
- Patients must be stage one
- Be postmenopausal
- There must be no chance of microscopic areas of cancer in other parts of the breast
- There must be no evidence of cancer in the lymph nodes
Brachytherapy delivers radiation therapy directly to the location of the cancer cells inside the breast. It may involve placing radioactive sources into the surgery site after removing a breast lump lumpectomy.
The radiation only reaches a small area around the surgery site. It does not treat the entire breast.