Dr. Cynara Coomer on Breast IORT in Delta Sky Magazine

Back in the Game

Women know how to juggle all of life’s demands: families, careers, friends, hobbies and more. A surprise health problem can threaten to upset the balance, but new medical procedures—ever more minimalized and miniaturized—promise to get women back to their routines faster.

Whether they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer or are struggling with bothersome menopausal symptoms, the goal for most women experiencing a health setback is to get back in the game as quickly as possible. In addition to managing their own health, many women are taking care of kids, husbands and professional responsibilities. If they take a time out because of a health issue, their families can suffer tremendously, says Dr. Florence Comite, endocrinologist and founder of ComiteMD in New York City.

Fortunately, in modern medicine, getting women back to their busy lives is top of mind. Today’s approaches to medicine are becoming so miniaturized and innocuous that recovery times are shrinking to mere days and hours, and post-procedure pain is a shadow of what it might have been in the past.

From battling breast cancer to managing menopause and more, new approaches to common medical issues are minimizing the amount of time women spend on the sidelines.

Reducing Radiation

When Carla DiMaggio, 71, of Staten Island, New York, heard the words “you have breast cancer,” she assumed she’d be facing weeks of grueling radiation therapy and postoperative complications.

“Four out of my seven aunts had breast cancer,” says the pharmacy clerk. “All of them endured weeks of radiation and suffered burning, soreness and nausea as a result of treatment.”

DiMaggio is among the first cohort of women to receive a one-day breast cancer treatment called intraoperative radiation therapy through the use of the Xoft System. Instead of undergoing a lumpectomy followed by weeks of radiation therapy to reduce the risk of recurrence, women with early stage breast cancer such as DiMaggio’s can opt for a one-time dose of radiation at the time of the lumpectomy.

Included in Cleveland Clinic’s list of “top 10 medical innovations for 2015,” IORT is redefining breast cancer treatment. During the procedure, doctors focus on concentrated dose of radiation on the tumor, sparing the heart, lungs and ribs from harmful radiation.

“Many women choose to have a mastectomy rather than a lumpectomy because they live too far away to get weekly radiation treatments, they don’t have transportation and they can’t afford to miss work and family obligations,” says Dr. Cynara Coomer, chief of breast surgery and director of the Florina Rusi-Marke Comprehensive Breast Center at Staten Island University Hospital. “With IORT, women can sidestep those issues and still save their breasts.”

After removing the lump, surgeons use a catheter to temporarily insert a balloon into the same (tiny) incision with a miniature x-ray source that delivers the single dose of radiation. The treatment usually lasts between eight and 12 minutes, then doctors remove the balloon, close the incision and patients drive themselves home. Many women return to work the same week, instead of months later as with the traditional approach. More importantly, preliminary studies show IORT is as effective as traditional radiation therapy and it alleviates some of the complications that result from too much radiation.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, two-third of women who have lumpectomies for breast cancer are receiving radiation treatment for nearly twice as long as is medically necessary. IORT circumvents that possibility.

“I was up and walking around right after surgery,” says DiMaggio. “Other than a little soreness in the breast area, I had no side effects from the procedure. I didn’t even need pain medication.”

The safety and effectiveness of the Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System as a replacement for whole breast irradiation in the treatment of breast cancer has not been established. Please consult your physician regarding whether or not the Xoft treatment is right for you.

This article was written by Amy Paturel and published in Delta Sky Magazine.