NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – There's been a medical breakthrough for women with early stage breast cancer.
Instead of having to go through months of chemo and radiation, doctors are using just one treatment that's much easier on patients, Dr. Max Gomez reports.
Connie Frameli has had breast cancer twice, so when the disease came back last year, she dreaded going through radiation again.
"I got real red, but I didn't get the blisters," Frameli said.
Fortunately, her doctor had an alternative – a technique borrowed from prostate cancer therapy.
Tiny radioactive seeds or pellets implanted directly into the area of the tumor after the lump is removed.
"It's a single treatment, instead of multiple treatments," Allegheny Health Network radiation oncologist Dr. Mark Trombetta said. "The patient comes in, has seeds placed, and goes home."
The seeds gradually release radioactivity over a few weeks and eventually become inactive. The pellets stay in permanently.
"The body doesn't recognize them as anything abnormal," Dr. Trombetta added.
"Inside there is palladium, which is a radioactive element. Very short half-life, so it gives very focused radiation to a very small area. It doesn't go through the whole body… It's very confined so less side effects."
One downside is radioactivity can be emitted to others unless a special shield is worn in a woman's bra.
Something that would have been uncomfortable for Kathleen Depalo, who is the primary caretaker for her sick husband.
Likewise, the standard post-op protocol of daily radiation treatments for several weeks also wasn't doable.
"Leaving your house everyday… anxiety. You're probably going to have fatigue. Probably more or less... burning... all the side effects," Depalo said.
Fortunately for Kathleen, she was a candidate for a different radiation therapy at Mount Sinai Hospital. It's done during the same surgery as the original lumpectomy.
After the small tumor is removed a radiation delivery device is inserted into the tumor cavity. The operation and the radiation are complete 45 minutes later.
"It is not exposing the entire breast to radiation, more importantly, the normal tissues that are nearby to the breasts, the lung and the heart are really going to receive miniscule doses of radiation," Dr. Sheryl Green of the Dubin Breast Center at Mount Sinai said.
Both treatments are best suited for cancers caught early and, in most cases, insurance covers them.
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