Traditional radiation therapy after surgery for early stage breast cancer — known as external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) — delivers radiation to the whole breast, exposing surrounding tissues and critical structures to radiation.
In addition, EBRT requires daily visits to a radiation oncology facility over the course of several weeks. This further disrupts the daily routine of an already stressed cancer patient.
Luckily, there is now an alternative to EBRT called intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT), which delivers a full course of targeted radiation via miniaturized X-ray source directly inside of the cavity created by removal of the tumor.
According to Olga Ivanov, MD, a board-certified breast surgeon at Florida Breast Health Specialists and also a consultant for Xoft, a manufacturer of an IORT system, here is how it works:
The radiation oncologist and the breast cancer surgeon work together to design therapy for patients who are good candidates for IORT. When the patient is in the operating room, the breast surgeon removes the cancer preserving the remaining surrounding healthy tissue (lumpectomy). She then places a small inflatable balloon inside of the surgical cavity and the X-ray source, placed in an applicator, is inserted to deliver radiation for the prescribed amount of time.
When the treatment is complete, the X-ray source is turned off and the device is removed.
According to a recent study by Dr. Ivanov and a colleague that was published in Cost Effectiveness and Resource Allocation, IORT is the preferred radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer for patients for a number of reasons:
• It is cost-effective and will save the U.S. healthcare system a substantial amount of money.
• Patients can also potentially save more than $10,500 annually depending on what type of insurance they have.
• IORT minimizes exposure to radiation and subsequent damage to surrounding healthy tissues.
• Because are shorter and more targeted, it offers patients a better quality of life.
Dr. Ivanov notes, “By implementing highly-effective, state-of-the-art technologies that save the healthcare system money while simultaneously providing improved patient outcomes, such as IORT, clinicians are on the right track to achieving unprecedented success in this new era of value-based care.”
You can read more about IORT in an article authored by Dr. Ivanov published on The Doctor Weighs In. You can also listen to a video interview with her here.
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