New breast cancer surgery includes a dose of radiation.
Doctors at Rose Medical Center in Denver consider a trial they are involved in a breakthrough for breast cancer patients.
Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) is a treatment that allows surgeons to give patients their radiation treatment during their breast-conserving lumpectomy procedure.
"Every time I talk to a patient about a breast-conserving lumpectomy, I have to make sure that we also include a discussion about radiation, because you can't have lumpectomy without radiation. The two come together," Dr. Barbara Schwartzberg with Rose Medical Center explained.
Typically, radiation following surgery involves treatment every weekday for five-to-six weeks.
This is a burden for many patients logistically and medically.
The treatment can burn the skin and lead to significant fatigue.
In the past few years, doctors have been able to offer some patients an accelerated partial-breast radiation course, which requires radiation twice a day for five days in a row.
IORT provides patients with early-stage breast cancer another option; an opportunity to have radiation treatment at the time of surgery.
The trial at Rose is for patients 40 years or older with a single focus of cancer, invasive ductal carcinoma.
During the lumpectomy procedure, the surgeon must confirm the cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes in order to proceed with IORT.
What happens next involves the precise placement of a radiation source internally, into the lumpectomy cavity.
The use of lower-energy X-ray technology allows medical providers to be in the room with the patient during treatment.
In the past two months, more than a dozen patients have had the procedure at Rose.
"The skin may be slightly pink after the procedure, although often times not. But nothing like we used to see with the entire breast being sunburned," Schwartzberg said.
Anne Hetrick had her procedure a month ago.
"I went home and I felt fine. A little soreness and that's all I've had, I mean I feel great," she said. "It makes so much sense to me. And it seems so much more convenient than five days a week for five weeks."
Hetrick says she felt fine the next day as well.
"Other than not remembering a darn thing the day of the surgery because of the anesthetic, yeah, I felt great," she said.