Anytime you have more than 100 of anything, it’s a celebration, said Julie Reiland, MD, Avera breast surgeon. So Avera is celebrating a new milestone of 100 patients who’ve been treated with intraoperative radiation therapy – IORT.
Electron-based IORT involves a radiation boost directly to the tumor site during lumpectomy surgery to remove breast cancer.
Currently, most patients 60 and over with small breast cancers can have both their surgery and radiation performed in the operating room on the very same day, and not need any more radiation. Women with more aggressive tumors or who are younger are candidates for a boost of radiation at the time of surgery, followed by three weeks of external beam radiation instead of the conventional six weeks.
Avera has been doing this novel therapy as part of an international clinical trial since 2011. Avera is one of eight locations in the nation to offer electron-based IORT in the treatment of breast cancer.
Reiland and her colleagues now have another milestone to celebrate as well. ASTRO, the American Society for Therapeutic Radiation and Oncology, recently recognized electron-based IORT to be the only form of radiation given in the operating room as the standard of care for breast cancer. Before now, it’s been an experimental treatment.
“When women get a breast cancer diagnosis, they are devastated and often think that it’s the end of the road for them. It’s not. For the majority of patients, it’s a very treatable disease,” Reiland said.
Breast conserving surgery, or lumpectomy, saves women from having to have a mastectomy, and IORT saves them from having an entire six weeks of external beam radiation treatments.
IORT is effective because it gets a boost of radiation directly to the tumor site to prevent a recurrence. “When you’re in the operating room, you can get the radiation to the exact right tissue where the cancer was. After the breast is closed, we can plan treatment through markers that we place and imaging, but you can’t visually see the site,” Reiland said.
Along with IORT, Reiland incorporates oncoplasty – plastic surgery techniques at the time of lumpectomy to improve the look of the breasts post-surgery.
“Back in 2011, Avera recognized this treatment, while very new, was a great option for the women in the region to help decrease the burden of breast cancer treatment. Avera has always been open minded about embracing new cancer treatments, and IORT was no exception. We applied for and were awarded a grant to purchase equipment funded through The Leona M. and Harry B. Helmsley Charitable Trust,” Reiland said. “I speak nationally and internationally about IORT and breast oncoplasty, and people are extremely impressed that a place like Avera in South Dakota would have such cutting-edge treatment,” Reiland said.
Mary Raiche, who recently moved from her long-time home in Sioux Falls to Arizona, was one of those patients. She was diagnosed in 2012 with early stage breast cancer.
“The first thing I experienced was disbelief. ‘This can’t be happening.’ I’m so fortunate and blessed to have had wonderful health my whole life. It was a big shock,” Raiche said.
Raiche said she was “all for” taking part in the IORT clinical trial as soon as she heard about it. Some of her family and friends were a little less sure. “There were lots of people looking up Dr. Julie Reiland and IORT on the Internet. Most people have never heard of it.”
But Raiche stuck to her guns and had all her breast cancer treatment close to home. “I almost feel guilty that I skated through it so easily.”
She was also thankful that she didn’t have to undergo mastectomy, which extends recovery time. “It seems like it went so fast, from diagnosis to surgery to follow-up radiation, and boom it was all over. IORT sped the whole process up.”