New option eliminates extra treatment time for early-stage patients

A look at electron intraoperative radiation therapy, or EIORT

HOUSTON – The American Cancer Society estimates more than a quarter million people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in the United States this year. Many of them will get weeks of radiation after surgery.

But there's a new option eliminating that extra treatment time for early-stage patients.

Judy Collins was 80 when she learned she had cancer in both breasts. She said she wasn't worried.

"It was a blip out of my life," Collins said.

She had electron intraoperative radiation therapy, or EIORT. Collins got all her radiation during her lumpectomies and said her life hasn't changed.

"You get up Monday morning, you play tennis, and Tuesday morning, you play golf, and Wednesday, you might have a tennis game, and Friday, for sure you have a tennis game. I don't sit around a whole lot," she said.

Dr. Mary Wilde, a breast surgical oncologist, and Dr. Ken Shimizu, a radiation oncologist, tag team the procedure.

Wilde removes the tumor and places a copper shield under the surgical site.

"The radiation is very precise and it doesn't scatter to other parts of the breast. It is stopped behind the tissue that needs to be irradiated by that protective shield," Wilde said.

Shimizu picks the right-sized cone to direct radiation into the incision for two minutes. Studies show EIORT is as effective as traditional radiation in some patients.

"They found that the patients that had lower risk disease had essentially the same risk of recurrence, so about 1.5 percent. Not only is it convenient and has excellent cosmetic results, but we all have the medical background and information to be able to support using it," Shimizu said.

Collins was back in action 10 days after treatment, which, for her, is par for the course.

To get EIORT, patients must be older than 50, have invasive ductal carcinoma and tumors 2 centimeters or smaller. However, Shimizu is also running a clinical trial for patients with more types of tumors that can be up to 2.5 centimeters.