Breast cancer breakthrough cuts treatment and recovery time

A recent innovation offers a compelling new treatment for some women with the most common form of breast cancer.
Interoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) is a recently approved treatment for invasive ductal carcinoma (IDC), which, according to nonprofit breastcancer.org, accounts for about 80 percent of all breast cancers. By applying radiation directly to the tumor area during surgery, IORT eliminates three to six weeks of radiation therapy, though follow-up care and checkups are still involved.

“It (IORT) really is a timesaver for patients, and it gives them another option,” says Vicki Estridge, a clinical nurse specialist and certified breast navigator at The Christ Hospital. “Even for a woman in her 60s or 70s it’s a good option, because it allows them to get their treatment, then go on with the rest of their life and not have to worry about driving to a facility every day.”

The Christ Hospital began offering IORT in 2015. Initial clinical trials for the treatment were conducted in 2003 to 2009. Though currently approved only for IDC tumors in a certain size range, additional trials may eventually expand its use to other types of breast cancer. Hormone receptor status can also affect eligibility.

“IORT occurs when the patient is on the operating table,” Estridge explains. “A balloon is placed in the operative space when they take the lump out, then the radiation source is fed into that balloon, usually for anywhere from 10 to 13 minutes.”

For Linda Mallory, one of the first women to receive IORT at The Christ Hospital last year, the choice to try the new treatment was easy. “It was approaching the holidays and I wanted it done before Christmas,” Mallory says.

Diagnosed with stage 1 cancer in her 50s, Mallory was encouraged by the possibility that IORT might allow her to skip weeks of daily radiation afterward. Even though her surgeon wouldn’t know whether the procedure could be performed until surgery was in progress, Mallory gave her consent for IORT if it proved to be an option.

“There needed to be enough tissue between where the tumor was and the outside of the skin,” Mallory recalls. “I really didn’t know when I went to sleep what was going to happen.”

Mallory met the criteria for IORT and was thrilled with the results. She didn’t have daily radiation treatments interfering with her job or causing skin concerns. “There was no downside to it. Honestly, I had surgery on Friday. If I’d had to I could have gone back to work on Monday,” Mallory said. “It wasn’t some big, huge ordeal or life-defining moment. It was more like a blip on my screen.”

Mallory adds, “Doing it all together like that made it seem like I wasn’t really sick. And in good conscience I can hardly even say that I had breast cancer, because it didn’t feel like that. It felt like a minor thing that I had taken care of.”

Click to learn more about our breast cancer services or  our locations for mammograms. To talk with our Breast Nurse Navigator, call 513-585-0671.