Breast cancer treatment gives more options to women
When Pamela Cundiff learned she had breast cancer, doctors recommended a mastectomy to remove the malignant mass and ensure the cancer would not spread.
But the idea of having her breasts removed due to a cancerous mass the size of BB gun pellet didn't sit well with Cundiff. The 56-year-old animal-rescue volunteer said doctors did not suggest a lumpectomy, a procedure to remove the breast lump or cancerous mass/tumor. due to her breast implants.During Cundiff's evaluation after her cancer diagnosis, the doctors explained to her that a lumpectomy with traditional radiation would give her an unnatural look.
"The doctors that saw me said because I had breast implants and a malignancy, the only way I could have a normal-looking body was to have a mastectomy," said Cundiff, who lives in Alvin and received cancer treatment in Houston. "For me, that was a big issue because the cancer I had was so small."
Just minutes after deciding to have a mastectomy, Cundiff learned about a new procedure that could treat breast cancer after a lumpectomy, allowing women to avoid a mastectomy.
"I learned that this new treatment had never been used on patients with breast implants, and I decided I would be the first patient to try it," said Cundiff, who had the procedure done in 2009. "I'm delighted with how it turned out."
That same radiation treatment is available at the MD Anderson Cancer Center Regional Care Center in Katy for women who have early stages of breast cancer. Located on the campus of Christus St. Catherine Hospital at 705 S. Fry Road, the center has provided breast cancer treatment and radiation services for several years and recently added the new treatment.
Known as accelerated partial breast irradiation, the radiation therapy technique is performed after a patient has had a lumpectomy. The therapy directly treats the area in the breast at highest risk for cancer recurrence while minimizing the radiation to the remaining healthy breast tissue, said Elizabeth Bloom, radiation oncologist and associate professor in radiation oncology with MD Anderson.
"For some women, accelerated partial breast irradiation may be an alternative to the current standard, which is four to six weeks of daily external beam radiation after breast-sparing surgery," Bloom said. "With the newer technique, the number of radiation treatments is reduced to only five days of twice-daily treatments after surgery."
As part of the new therapy, a breast surgeon inserts and expands a small device into the lumpectomy cavity, the hollowed-out area of the breast that had been occupied by the tumor. The device, composed of several small catheters or tubes, is left in place for about eight to 10 days for treatment planning and delivery, Bloom said.
When treatment begins, a radioactive seed is inserted through the individual catheters of the device and left in place for about five to 10 minutes, which is the length of one radiation treatment, and is then removed when the patient leaves the Katy center.
"The ideal candidate for accelerated partial breast irradiation typically is a woman who is more than 50 years old and has a relatively small tumor that is confined to the breast," said Bloom, who has performed the procedure on 150 patients, including Cundiff.
Bloom transferred from the MD Anderson Regional Care Center in Bellaire to the one in Katy and has been working with MD Anderson since 1999 and was one of the first doctors to perform the new radiation treatment when she introduced it three years ago at the MD Anderson Radiation Treatment Center in Bellaire.
Since the procedure was introduced, its use has been steadily growing as more women like Cundiff prefer to treat cancer with less drastic measures than a mastectomy. Side effects include skin redness that lasts a few weeks, some residual darkening of the skin that fades with time and possible minor discomfort.
The chance of cancer returning is low for some patients who use the new procedure, Bloom said.
Cundiff is now considered cancer-free. Her goal is to inform more women about the new therapy and encourage any woman with cancer to be evaluated to see if she qualifies for the procedure.
"It was really simple and so minimally invasive that I forget I even had cancer," said Cundiff, who needs no additional treatment and receives regular mammograms.
"Cancer changes everybody's life, but this device brings back normalcy," she added.
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