New Technology Cutting Cancer Treatment Time

Web Producer: Brad Maglinger

Mammosite radiation allows technicians to deliver radiation straight into the tumor site instead of the whole breast. It is so efficient that patients can be done with their entire round of therapy in just one week.

With traditional radiation, a beam comes out of the machine and is directed toward the tumor site. Over the years, it has become pretty accurate at hitting its target. One drawback though is the amount of time this therapy takes, anywhere from two to eight weeks.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Mike Miller says, "We have patients that travel up to an hour, an hour and a half every day for treatment and they usually do well with it, but that can wear on you after a period of time."

Now, some breast cancer patients are cutting that time period much shorter. What makes it possible is the mammosite catheter.

"When a woman has a lumpectomy and the tumor is actually removed, the surgeon will place this into the tumor bed," says Dr. Miller. The other end gets hooked up to a machine.

"There is a high energy radiation source in this machine, all computer driven, that will come out of the machine through the catheter through the center of that balloon and give off the radiation within the tumor bed region," explains Dr. Miller.

Since larger doses of radiation are targeting a much smaller amount of breast tissue, the patient can endure the full ten treatments in one week. The catheter is removed on site right afterward.

It's promising, but it's not for everyone. Patients must be over 45 and have a tumor that's smaller than three centimeters. Their lymph nodes must test negative for cancer, and they can't have any cancer cells in the margins around the tumor once it's removed.

The FDA just approved this technology in May of 2002, so not a lot of research is available on its long-term effectiveness. But so far, it seems to do the job just as well as its predecessor.

"It appears to be a very good treatment, however we want more long-term data and it will be coming out," Dr. Miller says.