New treatment fights cancer cells in O.R.

December 7, 2011

This new treatment involves giving patients radiation in the operating room, right after surgery, before the pateint is closed-up. It not only aims to kill cancer cells, but also attempts to give patients a better quality of life as they battle cancer by simplifying the radiation process.

The simpler treatment was a welcome development for 50-year-old Cindy Angotti, whose diagnosis of breast cancer came in the midst of a very turbulent time. Several months earlier, Agnotti lost her niece Lindsay in a tragic accident.

"She was the heart of our family," says Angotti. "I was still in shock from her death, so I was numb to it (the cancer) actually."

She had already taken five weeks family leave from her job to cope with losing Lindsay and to help with Lindsay's daughter. She knew she needed treatment for her cancer, but receiving a quick treatment was highly desirable.

Fortunately, Cindy's cancer was stage one and she was able to get the new treatment option offered at the Cancer Treatment Centers of America. Dr. Steven Standiford is among those delivering the needed radiation through this new process, known as intra-operative radiation therapy, or IORT. Dr. Standiford showed Action News the equipment involved, dubbed the Novac7.

Typically cancer patients are given radiation after surgery, externally, five days a week for a period of 4 to 6 weeks.

Dr. Standiford says it is different with IORT.

"It's 2 to 3 minutes of radiation time in the operating room delivered to where her cancer was, but protecting the underlying chest wall, lung, heart, skin, anything that doesn't need the radiation," explained Dr. Standiford.

Studies show IORT is just as safe and effective as traditional radiation therapy. But it cannot be used on all breast cancer patients.

Dr. Standiford says its best for patients with small tumors and no lymph node involvement.

Younger women may also not be candidates.

"Some types of breast cancer in younger women tend to be more aggressive with a higher risk of failure, so we like to add some whole breast radiation in as well," Dr. Standiford said.

Still he says for some patients it can be used as a boost to lessen the amount of traditional external radiation needed.

For Cindy, it worked. After a lumpectomy and one dose of IORT, she is now cancer-free.

She is back to work, and even had a little time to travel; something her niece also loved to do.

"I took her with me every step of the way," said Cindy.

IORT can also be used to treat other cancers such as some intestinal cancers, some brain cancers and some ovarian and cervical cancers.

Another study came out Wednesday that looks at a similar type treatment called Brachytherapy.

It uses a device to deliver radiation inside the body as well, typically over four to five days. However, the study said that it was not as effective as traditional radiation therapy.

So far all studies have said IORT is just as effective, but the government is doing more long-term studies on both treatments.

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