Radiation therapy reduced from 6 weeks to 5 days
CONCORD — Twice a day for five days Salisbury resident Evelyn Craig and her husband, Robert, drove to Carolinas Medical Center Northeast.
Through an inflated balloon device inserted into her breast cavity, Evelyn received high dose radiation.
After completing her morning treatment, the pair would head to their daughter’s home to play with their two toddler grandchildren before coming back at the end of the day for Evelyn to undergo a second round.
“The radiation didn’t tire me out, I was still able to chase my grandkids,” she said.
Had Evelyn been diagnosed with breast cancer a few months earlier, the couple would’ve had to travel an additional 25 miles to the hospital’s main campus in Charlotte for the treatment or opt for the traditional six-week radiation.
“I don’t think I would’ve been able to drive that far every day, I wouldn’t have been able to afford it,” she said.
The targeted radiation therapy known as MammoSite has been FDA approved since 2002, but doctors at the Battle Cancer Center at CMC-Northeast just started administering it in May.
Craig was their first patient.
“At first, I was overwhelmed by the fact that I had cancer,” Evelyn said. “But I was relieved when they told me I wouldn’t have to come for 33 radiation treatments.”
Dr. Jerome Butler Jr., a radiation oncology physician at CMC-Northeast, said the concentrated dosage cuts the treatment time down to 10 times in five days by treating the tumor bed instead of the entire breast.
Treating a small portion of the breast means fewer, less severe side effects, Butler said. Most can even drive themselves back and forth to treatment until the final day when the balloon is removed.
“There is usually some redness around the balloon insertion site and a little bit of fatigue toward the end of the week,” he said.
Butler said the high-dose radiation therapy allowed Evelyn the chance to continue spending time with family and friends during treatment.
“A lot of times when we perform some types of Brachytherapy or radiation, patients are radioactive,” Butler said. “With this, when the radiation is turned off the patient is not harmful to anyone they are around.”
Butler said the fact that the risk of infection is less than 1 percent is another plus.
“Thousands of women have been treated with this radiation,” he said. “Early data looks very promising and appears to be similar to the whole breast radiation therapy, which has been around for 30 years.”
But the treatment is only available to patients who are in the early stages of breast cancer, Butler said. Women also have to have the correct breast size to hold the balloon.
“Based on the tumor characteristics that we have to look at with the surgeon, they may be a good candidate,” he said. “Most of the time we treat post-menopausal women, but not always.”
Evelyn said now that her radiation is complete, she has started chemotherapy.
“I knocked out radiation quickly, so now I can be done with all of this sooner,” she said. “That’s huge.”
The shorter treatment cycle gave Evelyn a more positive outlook, she said.
“I knew that once I got that week done I could move on to the next step,” she said. “I do think that is very lifting because it’s very traumatic to find out you have cancer.”
Evelyn said she would “recommend the treatment to anybody” because of how well it went.
“The convenience was a big thing,” she said. “I didn’t have to drive out our gas, spend all my time here or be extremely fatigued.”
Butler said providing convenient access to care and quicker treatments are two goals set by doctors at Carolinas HealthCare System’s Levine Cancer Institute at CMC-NorthEast.
“It’s nice for patients to feel like they have options to choose from and options that fit in with their life,” he said.
Butler said Levine is currently working to bring cancer care to people who don’t necessarily live close to Charlotte.
“We want to bring these newer and quicker-type treatments to our outlying service areas, which include Rowan and Cabarrus counties.
Butler said bringing the high dose radiation therapy to CMC-Northeast has been in the works for quite some time.
“We had to purchase equipment and get resources and training for our staff,” he said.
Lisa Banko, administrative director of radiation therapy for the Levine Cancer Institute at CMC-NorthEast, said all of the radiation oncologists who work in the department are licensed by the state to perform the Mammosite radiation.
“This embodies the mission of the Levine Cancer Center by bringing it here so that the local community has access to it,” she said. “Some people just aren’t going to drive to Charlotte with the construction and downtown parking.”