Pa. doctors using new technology to treat breast cancer

May 23, 2006|by JENNIFER FITCH

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Doctors in Chambersburg are employing new methods and technology that allow them to administer radiation to breast cancer patients from inside the breast itself.

With MammoSite procedures the oncologists say aren't available elsewhere regionally, the duration of radiation treatments decreases from 6 1/2 weeks to one week as radioactive seeds are placed directly into the cavity created by the removal of a tumor.

"In the last 10 to 15 years, there have been so many strides made in breast cancer therapy. When you find it early, there are so many options for that patient," Dr. James E. Hurley II said.

He will be joined by Drs. Shaju Shamsuddin and John F. Robinson, all from the Summit Health system, for a community program next week in which they will highlight the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.


"The new treatments we have available are pretty much groundbreaking," Robinson said.

Jane Short of Chambersburg is one of five patients who has used MammoSite since introduced through Summit Health in January. Nationwide, 13,000 patients have been treated with MammoSite, Shamsuddin said.

"It's painless. I never felt bad," Short said.

Radiation is an added insurance after the removal of a tumor, Shamsuddin said. MammoSite is an alternative to external-beam radiation that affects the entire breast, he said.

Candidates for MammoSite are those with specifically sized and shaped cavities several centimeters from the skin, he said.

A balloon is inserted into the breast and filled with saline. A tube connected to that balloon then protrudes from the breast.

The patient arrives for treatment once in the morning and once in the afternoon for five consecutive days. There, a tiny, radioactive seed is sent from a machine into the balloon for approximately seven minutes.

"The last day is a wonderful day," Short said.

Robinson plans to present information at the community program about Herceptin, an antibody treatment that is directed against the breast cancer cell.

"All three (clinical) trials have shown that you have a 40 percent improvement in relapse rates," he said.

An identified gene in breast cancer cells gets "turned on" and can become very aggressive, Robinson said.

He also will focus on prevention through diet, exercise, vitamins, medications and genetic tests that can identify the BRCA gene, which creates susceptibility to breast cancer.

The oncologists are optimistic about progress in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer.

"We're finding breast cancer sooner. The advanced breast cancers are a rarity nowadays. It's excellent," Hurley said, noting 1,800 mammograms are performed each month in the Summit Health system.

Technology allows for the identification of even the tiniest problems, he said.

"It wasn't until the early 1990s that we really saw a decrease in the mortality rates for breast cancer. There are a number of different reasons for that. ... I think the biggest thing is finding them earlier. (Found early) their chances of cure are 98 to 100 percent," Hurley said.

"We are curing the majority or the vast majority of patients being diagnosed with breast cancer. We're able to cure close to 90 percent of breast cancer patients," Robinson said.

If you go ...

What: Breast Cancer Forum, free and open to the public

When: Tuesday, May 30; doors open at 6:30 p.m., presentation begins at 7 p.m.

Where: Chambersburg Hospital Lecture Center, 112 N. Seventh St.

For more information: Call 717-267-7452.

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