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Radiation therapy has long been a crucial part of the way we treat breast cancer. It has many roles, including after surgery to kill any remaining microscopic cancer cells and prevent the illness from returning.
Radiation is especially important after a lumpectomy — when part of the breast is removed — though it is sometimes used when the whole breast is removed, called a mastectomy.
Traditionally, the radiation has been divided up into a few dozen visits. This means patients must travel to a clinic to receive treatments every weekday for four to six weeks.
In some cases, women may have trouble making these trips and miss out on the full benefit of treatment. Other times, this requirement leads women who might otherwise have preferred breast-sparing surgery to instead have their breast removed entirely, a mastectomy.
There’s a new option in breast cancer radiation that condenses weeks of radiation visits into a single treatment, delivered during surgery. It’s called Intraoperative Radiation Therapy, or IORT.
We recently introduced this technology at the Multidisciplinary Breast Cancer Clinic at AdventHealth Altamonte Springs. The clinic opened in 2018 to bring our team under one roof, creating a one-stop location for breast cancer care.
IORT is another step in that direction by offering patients cancer care that fits into their life. It removes a big hassle for women choosing a breast-sparing lumpectomy.
How IORT Works
Doctors typically deliver precise amounts of radiation spread out over the course of several weeks. But IORT allows us to deliver your entire radiation dose in a single sitting.
It happens during a lumpectomy — the surgery that removes cancerous tumors from the breast — using a small balloon placed near the tumor site. The device delivers radiation into the site, destroying remaining cancer cells and minimizing cancer recurrence.
The targeted, precise nature of IORT helps it avoid healthy tissue, reducing potential side effects.
“Often, I talk with women who want to keep their breast after surgery, but weeks of daily radiation appointments can be a real challenge,” said AdventHealth surgeon Devina McCray, MD. “By combining these visits into a single treatment, IORT removes these barriers while helping women move forward more quickly after cancer.”
A peer-reviewed study has found IORT is as effective at preventing breast cancer from coming back as traditional radiation therapy. Like all therapies, IORT is not right for everyone. Your doctor will decide on a case-by-case basis whether it’s an option for you.
IORT is a great fit for our whole-person health philosophy, too. Women who are recovering from breast cancer surgery often want to move on with their lives, a goal that’s easier when daily clinic visits aren’t in the picture.