Scientists are working on ways to target smaller amounts of radiation to the tumor cells in breast cancer patients. This approach could improve the outcome of radiation therapy by shortening treatment times and minimizing the exposure of healthy breast tissue to damaging X-rays.
A technique called intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) delivers radiation right to the tumor site during breast cancer surgery. Immediately after a lumpectomy, doctors focus a single dose of low energy X-rays just to the spot where the tumor grew. This keeps the radiation localized to the area most likely to harbor tumors cells missed by the surgery.
Because IORT is immediate and focused, it may deliver a radiation effect equal to or greater than "conventional radiation treatments that typically require, on average, a minimum of 16 treatments over several weeks," according to researchers quoted in a Science Daily report.
This type of treatment would be best used in women with small, localized breast tumors that have not spread to nearby lymph nodes. Studies are ongoing to determine how effective IORT is compared with conventional radiation treatments given after surgery.
A preliminary study from the American College of Surgeons in Chicago suggests that IORT also may be useful for women facing a second bout of breast cancer. For women who have had a recurrence of breast cancer following a lumpectomy and standard breast radiation treatment, IORT could become an alternative to full breast removal (mastectomy).
Science Daily, 2007. "One Step Breast Cancer Treatment Combines Radiation Surgery,"
Holmes, DR, et al, 2007. “The TARGIT trial: Targeted Intraoperative Radiation Therapy Versus Conventional Postoperative Whole-Breast Radiotherapy after Breast-Conserving Surgery for the Management of Early-Stage Invasive Breast Cancer,” Am Jour Surgery.
Listen to Dr. Melvin J Silverstein discuss intraoperative radiation therapy: Track 3 “Delivery of Intraoperative Radiation Therapy,” 2007 Breast Cancer Update
MayoClinic site: "Too much to live for." A patient describes her experience with IORT: http://www.mayoclinic.org/patientstories/story-105.html