News of a breast cancer diagnosis is enough to throw anyone off course. Then follow that with surgery and radiation, which typically requires six weeks of repeated hospital visits. Now, doctors say there may be a way to treat the cancer with less disruption.
In Helene Shubert's house, the refrigerator and scrapbooks tell the story.
"I have four children and grandchildren. It keeps you going. I have friends. I go to concerts, go to movies, go to plays," she told Ivanhoe.
With so much to do in her retirement, there's no time for her own problems. So when Shubert was diagnosed with breast cancer, the normal six weeks of radiation was not appealing.
"We had planned a trip to New York, and I didn't want to have to stop the 33 radiation treatments to go to New York, then pick up again," Shubert said.
With a new treatment known as quadrant irradiation, that wouldn't be a problem.
Radiation oncologist Frank Vicini, M.D., of Beaumont Hospital in Detroit, told Ivanhoe, "We can deliver the same cancer-killing doses of radiation therapy in only one week's time."
After the tumor is removed, doctors use a CT scan to create an image of the area.
"We tell the computer, using a series of beam angles, to focus the treatment only on the area where the tumor was removed," said Dr. Vicini.
According to Dr. Vicini, 100 percent of the dose goes to about four centimeters. Other areas get less than a fraction of the treatment.
"By confining the radiation only to the tissues that require it, we can cause less side effects potentially to the patient, and have a better outcome with respect to quality of life," he says.
It was exactly what Shubert needed. And she still made it to New York.
"I went on Monday and on Friday I was done," said Shubert.
Studies show if localized cancer returns, it often comes back to the same place, so Dr. Vicini says leaving the rest of the breast untreated should not impact recurrence. The treatment is still under study and is being used on women with cancer that has not spread.
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