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New therapy cuts radiation time

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After a lumpectomy, women often face six to eight weeks of radiation therapy over their entire breast. But an alternative, being used at several Tarrant County facilities, is cutting the treatment time with radiation to just five days.

The procedure, called partial breast irradiation, is a minimally invasive method of delivering internal radiation. It involves delivering radioactive seeds to the lumpectomy cavity.

Twice daily for five days, the patient is scanned at the medical facility to make sure the radioactive seeds are properly placed. The seeds are removed after five to 10 minutes.

With this approach, the radiation focuses on the site of the original tumor, the area where the cancer is most likely to reoccur.

The procedure holds promise for many women, but it is not for everyone, said Dr. Michela Caruso, a radiologist at Baylor Medical Center at Irving, Texas.

``You have to have the right anatomy, the right location and a tumor that is caught early," Caruso said.

Women must be 45 or older, have early-stage breast cancer and a tumor less than 3 centimeters in diameter to meet the selection criteria, officials at Arlington Cancer Center said. The cancer should not have spread to the lymph nodes.

The treatment is especially appropriate for women in poor health or who live in rural areas, people for whom traveling for treatments is particularly difficult.

There are no long-term studies to confirm that this approach works as well as traditional radiation, but so far, doctors are encouraged by the results.

"We do know it is much better-tolerated," Caruso said. "There is less burning of the skin, less fatigue, less time lost and less deformity of the breast."

A study of 199 women with early-stage cancer found that the partial breast treatment prevented cancer from returning in the same breast just as effectively as the standard treatment over five years, according to the American Cancer Society. One of 79 women followed for five years had an unsatisfactory cosmetic result from the procedure.


(c) 2005, Fort Worth Star-Telegram. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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