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Dr. Kim Mulvihill reporting A breast cancer diagnosis for most women means at least six weeks of difficult radiation treatments after surgery. But a new clinical trial underway may find a single dose is all that's needed.
When early stage breast cancer recurs, ninety percent come back at the same site. So after surgery, patients get a long course of radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.
But treatment comes at a cost.
Alison Bevan, M.D./ UCSF Breast Cancer Researcher: "There is pronounced fatigue. There is also a fairly dramatic skin reaction that happens."
And, for women who live far away, six weeks of daily treatments could mean a difficult choice.
So some women who might not have access to good radiation centers might opt for a mastectomy.
But doctors at UCSF are testing a new approach, using this device.
The hope is that women with breast cancer who need radiation would only get zapped once, and then get on with their lives.
The device is called Targit. Here's how it works: Immediately after surgeons take out the tumor, one of these wand-like devices is inserted into the breast. It delivers 25 minutes of radiation precisely to the surgical site It's then removed, and surgeons stitch up the patient.
Alison Bevan: "When a patient wakes up, and they're all done with treatment, they go home." It could have a huge psychological boost for the patient.
Judy Walker/Patient: "I think so, definitely. My mood is really well, because I'm done with it."
Judy Walker lives in Redding, California. That's four hours away from UCSF. After she was diagnosed in February, Judy entered the Targit trial.
Judy Walker: "I didn't get radiation all over the place. I got it right where I needed it."
Dr. Laura Esserman/ UCSF Breast Cancer Surgeon: "Being able to give a single dose of therapy in the operating room is infinitely easier on patients. What we need to prove now is that it's just as effective."
Dr. Laura Esserman is director of the UCSF breast care center. "For some patients," she says, "It's going to be great. For other patients it may not work so well."
To get more data, surgeons also take a tissue sample to study how each woman responds to a single dose of radiation.
Dr. Esserman: "Breast cancer is not just one disease, it's many diseases. And the more we understand how it is different, the better we're going to be able to tailor therapy, and give just what they need-- not too much, not too little."
So far, twenty patients have been treated, with dramatially reduced side effects.
Judy Walker: "I was amazed. I'm tired, but that's about it."