Since 1990, the death rate from breast cancer in women has decreased by 2.3 percent annually, according to the American Cancer Society. Much of this decline is attributed to earlier detection.
The cure rate is now over 90 percent because patients are being proactive and doing breast self exams and getting their mammograms. Cancers are found earlier when they are most treatable.
Advancements in treatment options have also helped boost the statistics and save lives. One treatment, radiation therapy, has changed significantly over the past 10 years. Radiation therapy uses high-energy X-rays to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells that remain in the breast, chest wall or underarm area following surgery.
“Sinai-Grace uses an advanced, high-precision procedure called intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT),” explains Dr. Holt. “IMRT is a better treatment because it optimizes the delivery of radiation to the breast by modulating the dose through many small beams. This gives a more even dose to the breast with fewer hot spots and less dosing to normal tissues such as the lung and heart.”
Common side effects of radiation, such as swelling, breast heaviness and sunburn-like changes, can be reduced with IMRT.
Treatment begins with a three-dimensional computed tomography (CT) scan of the patient. These images are fed into a special computer system that helps carefully plan and track the patient’s treatment. The computer calculates variable doses of radiation to target a tumor.
At Sinai-Grace, a radiation oncologist, radiation therapists, dosimetrists and oncology nurses work together to manage the treatment. Treatments are generally given five days a week for six weeks or more.
During treatment a medical linear accelerator is used to generate the photons, or X-rays, used in IMRT. The patient lies on a treatment table while the linear accelerator delivers beams of radiation to the tumor from various directions.
IMRT can also be used on cancers of the prostate, head, neck, thyroid, lung, liver and brain. IMRT is ideal for treating irregularly shaped tumors. Rather than one large beam, as was used in the past, IMRT produces dozens of smaller, individual beams. Each beamlet can be programmed to give a specific dose based on the thickness of the tissue.
For more information about DMC Sinai-Grace Hospital’s cancer services or a referral to a Sinai-Grace oncologist, call 313-966-4800.