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YOUR HEALTH: Cancer radiation alternative

SAN DIEGO, California – Catching breast cancer at an early stage has an 88% five-year survival rate.

But it can still be a long road to recovery.  For many it will require weeks of radiation after surgery.

Doctors are trying out a new option that eliminates that extra treatment time for early stage patients like Judy Collins.

She was 80 when she learned she had cancer in both breasts.  She said she wasn't worried.

"It was a blip out of my life. How's that?"

She had electron intra-operative radiation therapy, or E-I-O-R-T.

Judy got all her radiation during her lumpectomies and says her life hasn't changed.

"You get up Monday morning, you play tennis, and Tuesday morning, you play golf, and Wednesday, you might have a tennis game, and Friday, for sure you have a tennis game," said Judy.   "And I don`t sit around a whole lot."

Surgeon Mary Wilde and Radiation Oncologist Ken Shimizu of the Scripps Clinic tag team the procedure.

First, Dr. Wilde removes the tumor and places a copper shield under the surgical site.

"The radiation is very very precise and it doesn't scatter to other parts of the breast," Dr. Wilde explained.  "It is stopped behind the tissue that needs to be irradiated by that protective shield."

Then, Dr. Shimizu picks the right-sized cone to direct radiation into the incision for two minutes.

Studies show E-I-O-R-T is as effective as traditional radiation in some patients.

"They found that the patients that had lower risk disease had essentially the same risk of recurrence," said Dr. Shimizu.   "Not only is it convenient and has excellent cosmetic results, but we all have the medical background and information to be able to support using it."

Judy was back in action ten days after treatment, which for her is par for the course.

So far it's a very specific group of people offered this treatment.  Patients must be over the age of 50, have invasive ductal carcinoma, and tumors two centimeters or smaller.

But Dr. Shimizu is also running a clinical trial for patients with more types of tumors that can be slightly bigger.

TREATMENT: Electron Intraoperative Radiation Therapy, or EIORT, is an option that eliminates the need for what is typically weeks of post-surgery radiation for early stage patients.  Most breast cancer patients require approximately three to six weeks of conventional X-ray radiation therapy after breast-conserving surgery. But EIORT can deliver a full course of radiation in a single dose in about two minutes. EIORT technology uses a mobile linear accelerator to deliver electron beam radiation treatment into the patient`s open surgical site after the tumor is removed. In addition to its speed, EIORT delivers radiation more precisely and effectively to the targeted tissue than conventional external beam radiation, because it has the benefit of direct visualization of the tumor site. This treatment helps patients move forward with recovery sooner and because it is highly targeted, reduces irritation to the heart, lungs, and surrounding healthy tissues.  (Source: https://www.scripps.org/news_items/5924-new-breast-cancer-treatment-at-scripps-eliminates-need-for-post-surgery-radiation)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.