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New breast cancer system reduces weeks of radiation

Matthew McCurdy, M.D., Ph.D., demonstrates a new way to treat breast cancer.

​​​​​​Medical Advances at Marshfield Clinic: New breast cancer system reduces weeks of radiation treatments.

A new system now offered by Marshfield Clinic and Ministry Saint Joseph's Hospital in Marshfield can help some early-stage breast cancer patients reduce their time in radiation treatment by 10 weeks.

The decreased time is possible by using a new breast brachytherapy catheter system, or internal radiation therapy. It precisely targets radiation where it is needed most, minimizing exposure to healthy areas.

Conventional breast radiation therapy begins several weeks after surgery and takes seven weeks. Using the brachytherapy system, the lumpectomy and five days of treatments are spread over the course of two weeks. This new technique requires a coordinated team that includes a breast surgeon, pathologist and radiation oncologist.

For some busy, active women, the quicker treatment is often their preferred choice. Women who live and work far from a radiation center are more likely to choose breast conserving treatment, said Anna Seydel, M.D., Marshfield Clinic breast surgeon. This treatment is available to virtually any woman older than 50, with any type of breast cancer.

"The brachytherapy applicator is an expandable bundle of catheters which are placed into the lumpectomy cavity through a small incision," said Matthew McCurdy, M.D., Ph.D., Marshfield Clinic radiation oncologist. During treatment, a computer-controlled machine is connected to ends of the catheters remaining outside of the breast. The machine painlessly expands the catheters and places a tiny radioactive seed into each catheter.

A number of patients have opted for this procedure. Dr. Seydel said one patient underwent it after having had whole breast radiation on her opposite breast 15 years ago.

"Patients are educated, doing their own research and coming to us seeking this treatment," Dr. Seydel said. "The local control of their breast cancer, which includes surgery and radiation, is now a two-week process, which is very manageable for many patients."

Treatments are twice a day, six hours apart. Most women say they are able to carry on normal activities during and immediately after treatment. Patients who live some distance away from Marshfield also have the option of staying at Hope Lodge.

"This procedure has proven itself to be as effective in treating cancer and causes fewer side effects," Dr. McCurdy said. "Patients recover faster, and since we can complete everything in just two weeks, their lives aren't disrupted as long."