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Study Tests Effectiveness of Radiation Therapy During Breast Cancer Surgery (dateline March 9, 2000)

A manufacturer of a miniature x-ray system has just received permission to conduct a clinical study to determine whether breast cancer patients would benefit from receiving radiation therapy during a lumpectomy procedure (surgery to remove a breast lump). Currently, most lumpectomy patients undergo six to seven weeks of radiation therapy following recovery from their surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells. If the new treatment proves successful, a "boost" of radiation during surgery may eliminate the need for weeks of post-operative radiation treatment.

The study will be conducted at Middlesex Hospital in London, England, but medical centers in the United States and other European countries are also expected to participate. Surgery Professor Michael Baum of Middlesex Hospital believes the Photon Radiosurgery System (PRS) that will be used in the study shows promise. Conservative treatment of breast cancer (lumpectomy) may not require radiation therapy that involves the entire breast, said Baum in a Photoelectron Corporation press release. Based on his previous research, Baum said that delivering targeted intra-operative radiation therapy has proven to be safe and feasible.

The study will investigate whether a single "boost" of radiation therapy delivered directly to the area of the breast where the tumor was removed will eliminate the need for any additional radiation therapy after surgery. Baum and other researchers believe the treatment would dramatically change the way the majority of breast cancer patients are treated. Currently, many women who have lumpectomies must re-arrange their schedules and often travel far distances to receive radiation treatment sessions. Dr. Jayant Vaidya, a colleague of Baum, believes intra-operative radiation therapy offers new hope to millions of breast cancer patients who are currently unable to obtain radiation treatments.

Currently, most women who have lumpectomies are treated with external beam radiation for at least six weeks following their recovery from surgery. External beam radiation is delivered from a source outside the body directly onto the breast. Patients are typically treated with radiation five times per week in an outpatient clinical setting. Side effects vary from patient to patient but may include fatigue, neutropenia (low white blood cell count), breast swelling or tenderness, a feeling of heaviness in the breast, a sunburn-like appearance of the breast skin, and loss of appetite. Radiation therapy that is delivered once during the same procedure as the breast lump is removed would eliminate the duration of these side effects.

Another form of radiation therapy called brachytherapy (or internal radiation) is currently being developed to use on breast cancer patients. Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive substances directly into the breast tissue next to the cancer. Ten to 20 plastic catheters (tiny tubes) are surgically inserted into the breast tissue next to the tumor area to help guide the radioactive materials to the correct area of the body. Brachytherapy has the potential to reduce the amount of time a lumpectomy patient must undergo radiation therapy from six weeks to one week.

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