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Breast Cancer Health Center

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New Ways to Treat Breast Cancer

A new generation of drugs and treatment options gives patients new hope in the fight against breast cancer.

Extreme Cures continued...

Unlike traditional treatment, which blankets the entire breast with radiation from an outside source, MammoSite uses a process known as brachytherapy - the delivery of radiation direct to the site of the tumor bed from inside the body.

Dan Chase, MS, DABR, a board-certified radiological physicist at the Thompson Cancer Survival Center in Knoxville, Tenn., explains.

"We enter the same cavity where the lump was removed and insert a small, soft balloon attached to a thin catheter (tube)," says Chase.

The balloon is inflated, he says, and a computer-controlled machine delivers the radiation down the tube into the balloon. Here, it acts on adjacent tissue. The total radiation exposure is similar to what would be traditionally administered, but in a much more confined space.

Treatment time is also shorter; just 10 minutes, twice a day for a total of five days. That's compared with five days of treatment per week -- for up to seven weeks -- with traditional radiation therapy.

As good as it sounds, however, Smith cautions that a lack of long-term data means treatment should be confined to a clinical trial.

And while trials are ongoing, treatment is also being offered nationwide by many facilities; Chase says women should think twice before saying yes.

"In some universities partial breast radiation is thought of as the next big thing in breast cancer treatment. But until we know more, women should get a second opinion before accepting this treatment," says Chase.

Aggressive Chemotherapy and Radiation

On the other end of the spectrum is a nod to the past, with an extremely aggressive use of both chemotherapy and radiation combined.

"We now treat all women with stage II breast cancerbreast cancer or higher with chemotherapy prior to surgery, and if there is breast conservation, we follow with radiation, sometimes followed by more chemotherapy," says Therese B. Bevers, MD, medical director of the Cancer Prevention Center and Prevention Outreach Programs at M.D. Anderson.

Bevers says she believes chemotherapy prior to surgery shrinks tumors, allowing some women to have a lumpectomy instead of a mastectomy. Moreover, she says, "It also ensures that any renegade cancer cells that may be floating in the body are killed prior to surgery."

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