Breast conservation, partial breast radiation are game changers

Early detection not only saves lives. It can also give a breast cancer patient a shot at a better quality of life. Working together, Parkwest Medical Center and Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center offer a plan that can dramatically alter a patient’s cancer story. Treatment only takes about two weeks, and there’s no need for reconstructive surgery.

Breast Conservation

Parkwest surgeon William Gibson with patient Claudia Albright.
Claudia Albright (pictured here with Parkwest surgeon William Gibson, MD) was able to take advantage of breast conservation surgery and partial breast radiation because her cancer was detected early.

“A long time ago the traditional surgical management of all breast cancer was with mastectomy, which is obviously a physically and psychologically traumatic operation that we certainly try to avoid whenever we can,” says William Gibson, MD, a Parkwest surgeon who specializes in breast cancer. “An alternative is breast conservation surgery, which removes the tumor and a small mar- gin of normal breast tissue around it.”

Gibson says about two- thirds of breast cancers can be treated with breast conservation surgery.

Claudia Albright was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is considered the earliest form of breast cancer. A DCIS diagnosis meant she had abnormal cells inside a milk duct within the breast.

“For me I think the whole process was, ‘I’ve got something that wants to kill me that’s inside me.

We need to get it out. And we need to fix the problem as fast as we can,’” Albright says.

Targeted Radiation

Breast conservation surgery, often referred to as a “lumpectomy,” goes  hand in hand with partial breast radiation, another important advance in breast cancer treatment. Radiation can be delivered to the breast from the inside, pinpointing the area surrounding the tumor.

“It’s very safe, it’s well tolerated and we’ve had good results with this type of treatment,” says Parkwest radiation oncologist Joseph Meyer, MD. “Ninety-five percent of the patients have no recurrence of their cancer at 10 years.”

Partial breast  radiation is faster, less intrusive into a patient’s lifestyle and carries fewer side effects than radiation of the whole breast. The process begins when Dr. Gibson removes the tumor in surgery at Parkwest Medical Center.

A balloon-like tool is implanted where the tumor used to be. After surgery there’s a pathology report and CT scan at Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center to see if the patient is ready for partial breast radiation.

Dr. Meyer explains the radiation is delivered in the form of a radioactive seed that’s attached to a wire. It travels up small catheters to release radiation in the empty area where the tumor was. 

Perfect Timing

The bonus is the time saved. Albright’s job situation was changing and her insurance was in tran- sition. She didn’t have time to spare.

Patients who have breast conservation surgery and partial breast radiation are usually finished with the entire process in two weeks. In comparison,  breast  radiation takes 20 to 30 treatments in four to six weeks.

“I’m just so grateful that I didn’t have to go through the standard process for cancer with the chemo and the radiation with six months to a year or more out of my life,” Albright says. “I’m back to being out on the boat and enjoying life.”

A month after the last radiation treatment, Albright has a small scar, but no other physical ev- idence that cancer was ever a part of her life. “I honestly can’t tell a difference at all.”

Breast conservation surgery and partial breast radiation only work when cancer is caught in earlier stages, so early detection is key. It’s a lesson Albright won’t soon forget. After surgery she learned that her cancer had been in  the  process of breaking through the duct.

“Had I waited, it could have been well over three centimeters and I could have been looking at Stage Three breast cancer,” she says.

Albright’s heart breaks for women who struggle with chemotherapy and whole breast radiation when cancer has been detected in  later stages. She’s on a mission to make sure the women in her life know that early detection not only saves lives, but can also mean better quality of life.

“I’ve gotten on my pedestal and screamed and  pouted and fussed at them,” Albright says. “Just get the mammogram! Stay on top of it!”

Did you know…?

A Parkwest patient doesn’t just get one medical professional to help her fight cancer. She gets a whole multidisciplinary team to wage war on it.

A cancer surgeon, a medical oncologist, a radiation oncologist, radiologist, radiation physicist, radiation therapist, and a radiation nurse review every case together. A pathologist, a reconstructive surgeon, a clinical trials representative, a nurse navigator and a coordinator are on the team, too.

At Parkwest, excellent care meets teamwork from the start. With everyone who is involved in the patient’s care coming to the table, fighting cancer becomes a strategic battle plan.

To learn more, visit www.treatedwell.com/breastcenter or call (865) 373-7010.

Nurse Navigators

The newest members of the Parkwest multidisciplinary team are nurse navigators. A registered nurse is as- signed to each patient at Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center to help navigate the process from start to finish.

“We make sure they have everything they need to get through treatment successfully,” says Jodi Haney, RN. “We’re a contact person and a resource if they have questions about appointments or about procedures.”

As registered oncology nurses, these navigators can offer expert help with managing symptoms, from nausea and vomiting to skin problems. They also work on barriers to care such as transportation issues and emotional or psychological needs.

“A patient may not have lots of family members or friends or anyone they can call,” Haney says. “It’s good to have that support system.”

The nurse navigators can attend appointments with patients, take notes and even ask questions the patient might not think to consider. For Haney, it’s an incredibly rewarding field to work in.

“It’s wonderful, especially when you’re with a patient from beginning to end, to see them complete treatment successfully after you’ve been with them that whole journey,” Haney says.

Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center is recognized as a Breast Imaging Center of Excellence by the American College of Radiology (ACR). An accredited facility, the center stands at the forefront of care, from screening and diagnosis of breast cancer to treatment and counseling.