Little-known radiation therapy gives breast cancer patients hope

Apr 12, 2013, 10:37 IST | Naveen Nair

Intra-Operative Radiation Treatment (IORT) which costs one fourth of traditional radiation therapy and takes only a few hours is a life-saver for women diagnosed with early stages of breast cancer, obviating the need for removal of the organ

A concentrated form of radiation therapy - less expensive and less harmful than traditional radiation treatments is proving to be a boon for breast cancer patients. The new radiation treatment has worked wonders for as many as 52 breast cancer patients at a city-based hospital in less than two years. With the help of Intra-Operative Radiation Treatment (IORT), only the cancerous growth is removed through concentrated radiation, and complete removal of the breast is avoided.

IORT, a relatively new concept in India, has been helping breast cancer patients recover faster and reduces the risk of relapse

The cost and time spent on IORT is less than that required for conventional radiation methods. The IORT treatment can be completed in three days and costs a humble sum of Rs 30,000, compared to the usual six-week-long traditional radiation treatments that cost about Rs 2 lakh. Several breast cancer patients who come to Mumbai for their treatment usually end up getting a mastectomy, as they cannot afford to be away from home for a full-fledged six-week radiation treatment session. Also, the high costs associated with the same often make it unaffordable for patients.

Renna Dsouza (35) (name changed on request), a resident of Vasai was detected with breast cancer in 2011. Renna, a working woman and mother of a six-year-old son, was afraid that she would not survive. “I was relieved when the doctor informed me that the cancer could be cured and that I would not have to lose a portion of my breast,” Renna said.

Over the last year-and-a-half, Dr Sanjay Sharma, consulting surgeon and oncologist at Fortis S L Raheja hospital has performed over 52 IORTs that have shown good results. The entire procedure takes less than an hour and the patient is fit to go home in three days. However, the only catch is that it can only be used on patients with stage I and stage II breast cancer. Renna added, “Within 15 days of my IORT surgery I was able to get back to work and lead a normal life. The procedure was very comfortable and I haven’t suffered a relapse. Nobody can tell that I was ever a victim of breast cancer.”

Proven boon
Experts claim that IORT is a relatively new concept in India, though many countries have been using it for the last two decades. Expert oncologists from across the nation admit that there is sufficient medical literature available to prove that IORT is a safe procedure.

Though claimed to be effective, costs associated with equipment has made this therapy inaccessible for patients across the country. When our reporter contacted several experts from various cities, they admitted that they have not used this treatment but confirmed that this method is a boon for women with early stages of breast cancer.

TARGIT trial is the largest and most comprehensive of all clinical trials on the effectiveness and safety of IORT. The early results of the TARGIT trial were published in June 2010 and showed that the IORT was equally effective as standard breast radiotherapy in terms of reducing the risk of recurrence.

Fortis S L Raheja hospital’s Dr Sharma said, “In the entire state, the treatment is currently being performed only at our facility. It is necessary that more doctors come forward and opt for this procedure. The government should also initiate policies for purchasing the machine and providing IORT at hospitals in rural areas.”

The procedure
IORT provides a concentrated dose of radiation to a tumour site immediately after the tumour is removed, destroying the microscopic tumour cells that may be left behind. During breast cancer IORT, a precise radiation dose is applied while shielding healthy tissues or structures, such as the skin. Critical organs within the radiation field, such as the lungs and heart, can also be protected.

Doctors speak:
Dr Shekar Salkar, oncology surgeon, Goa said, “IORT reduces the psychological trauma a patient goes through while shuttling back and forth between hospital and home for six weeks of radiation under the traditional method.” Dr Salkar claimed that it would take another 10-15 years for doctors across the nation to accept this method.

Dr Vijay Bhaskar, radiation oncologist, Bangalore said, “Usually under the traditional method we require the patient to undergo radiation for about 30-33 days. Under IORT the same result can be achieved in less than an hour.”

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