NYHQ offers pioneering breast cancer treatment

By Alexander Dworkowitz

When diagnosed with early stage breast cancer, many women must undergo weeks of difficult radiation treatment after having tissue surgically removed from their breast.

This year New York Hospital Medical Center Queens is trying to make the often harrowing process a little easier.

The Flushing-based hospital has adopted a new procedure which administers radiation treatment in five days after a lumpectomy, the removal of cancerous tissue from the breast. Typically, radiation treatment takes six weeks.

“It works. It’s easy. It’s safe. It’s simple,” said Dr. Akkamma Ravi, the attending radiation oncologist at the Ned Arnold Center for Radiation Oncology at NYHQ.

NYHQ is the first hospital in the borough to offer the procedure, known as the MammoSite Radiation Therapy System, said Mary Hall Mayer, the administrative director of the Ned Arnold Center. The procedure was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May 2002 and is being adopted by hospitals across the country, Ravi said.

“We are excited to be among the first in the country to offer this new radiation treatment to women with breast cancer who are confronting difficult choices regarding their care,” said Dr. Dattatreyudu Nori, the chairman of the Ned Arnold Center.

Officials at NYHQ expect to first administer the procedure sometime in the next few months.

After being diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer, women must choose between having doctors remove their entire breast or only the cancerous tissue.

If they select the second option, women usually have to undergo radiation therapy to help prevent the cancer from recurring. Most often, hospitals dispense the radiation over six weeks. Women can also choose to have needles inserted into their breast to receive the radiation, which typically lasts about a week.

The MammoSite RTS takes about as long as the needle procedure but is intended to be more pleasant.

At the end of the operation or shortly afterwards, a catheter with a deflated balloon on its end is inserted into the cavity left from the removal of the tumor. Over five days, technicians administer radiation seeds through the catheter and onto the balloon, which is inflated. The radiation lines the inside of the cavity.

During the course of the five days, the catheter, which is about six inches long, is left taped to the breast and tucks underneath the closing. Patients have to return to the hospital twice a day to receive radiation but otherwise can go about their business. The catheter is removed at the end of the fifth day.

Ravi said the MammoSite RTS required less technical knowledge to administer than the needle procedure and described it as “minimally invasive.”

“From a patient point of view, it’s very advantageous,” she said. “For us, it’s easy and it’s highly reproducible.”

The procedure, however, is not for all patients. Since it dispenses radiation only to the portion of the breast affected by cancer, doctors do not recommend it for younger women, who are more likely to develop cancer in other parts of the breast than older women.

Although the FDA approved the procedure for women over 45, the hospital plans to administer it primarily to women over 60, Ravi said.

The cancer cannot be on the surface of the breast for the treatment, Ravi said.

Ravi predicted MammoSite RTS would become popular at NYHQ and hospitals across the country.

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 141.

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