An Alternative Approach to Breast Health

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The latest state-of-the-art linear accelerator at the Breast Health Center at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center will provide a precise, effective way of delivering radiation therapy directly to cancer—right down to the millimeter.

“We are treating breast cancer the most proactive way possible. Breast conservation—minimal surgery in conjunction with radiation—is just as effective as more invasive surgeries.” — John Gebert, MD, radiation oncologist, Richard E. Winter Cancer Center

Radiation therapy, a popular, safe method for eradicating cancer cells that may be still be present after surgery, plays an important role in treating all stages of breast cancer. Traditional radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to destroy cancer cells and is typically administered beginning four weeks after a lumpectomy for early-stage breast cancer.

Today, a quicker, more powerful way to deliver radiation therapy, known as accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI), is fast becoming a popular alternative among oncologists. During treatments, radiation is delivered to only part of the breast over five days.

“Claxton-Hepburn is passionately committed to obtaining and utilizing the most advanced equipment available that will deliver the most precise dose of radiation possible,” explains John W. Gebert, MD, radiation oncologist at the Richard E. Winter Cancer Center at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center. “Our goal is to destroy the cancer entirely, while preserving as much breast tissue as we can.”

Focusing on the Now

There are two approaches to administering APBI. Breast brachytherapy is an internal form of radiation that requires the placement of a radioactive “seed” near the affected site in an effort to kill any undetected cancer cells that remain after surgery.

While there are several methods for the radiation to reach the site, one of the more common procedures utilizes a specialized catheter or balloon inserted into the breast tissue. The catheter holds the seed in a targeted area immediately surrounding the lumpectomy site. The device remains in place during the course of APBI treatment, which lasts an average of five days.

External beam radiation treats part of the breast; however, treatment is delivered using the linear accelerator and offers shorter treatment times and can usually be completed in one week. The linear accelerator delivers high-energy X-rays to the exact region of the patient’s tumor. These treatments can be designed in such a way that they destroy the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding normal tissue. It is a preferable method of treatment that minimizes radiation. The precision of the radiation dose is equivalent to approximately half the thickness of a dime.

“The linear accelerator blocks the radiation field from damaging the surrounding healthy tissue with unnecessary exposure,” says Doug Salhani, PhD, FCCPM, board-certified medical physicist at Claxton-Hepburn who works with physicians in planning radiation treatments for cancer patients. “It is highly effective in delivering radiation therapy to odd or irregularly shaped tumors, and is especially beneficial for treating tumors that may be close to or surrounding vital organs that were previously considered untreatable.”

Every Step of the Way

Dedicated to providing comprehensive care for newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer, the specialized team at the Breast Health Center at Claxton-Hepburn Medical Center is here to help at every stage of the planning process. Each patient meets one on one with her surgeon, radiation oncologist, medical oncologist, and patient navigator, who help guide her through her decision-making to reduce stress and anxiety. While scheduling radiation treatments around work and family can be challenging for some women, the staff at the Breast Health Center at Claxton-Hepburn work individually with each patient to keep appointments as short as possible. “The typical course of treatment with traditional whole breast radiation therapy requires women to come in for radiation sessions over a period of six weeks. That kind of treatment schedule can be difficult for a busy woman to manage,” Dr. Gebert says. “APBI can be a more convenient and practical treatment option because it is a single week in duration, allowing many women to continue their normal activities while undergoing radiation.”

By partnering with the Richard E. Winter Cancer Center, the Breast Health Center offers patients the most modern diagnostic imaging and treatment tools available. Services in addition to APBI include: biopsy, breast-conserving lumpectomy, chemotherapy, CT, PET/CT, MRI, mammography, and mastectomy.

“We want all of our patients to be confident that they are being cared for at a cancer center with the highest level of experience in the region,” Dr. Gebert says. “The well-being of our patients is at the forefront of everything we do.”

For more information about the oncology services and breast cancer treatment options offered at Claxton-Hepburn’s Breast Health Center, visit and click “Services” and “Breast Health.”

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Laura Shea
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