From Parkwest Health & Lifestyles

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.

Dr. William Gibson recommended breast conservation surgery and partial breast radiation for Claudia Albright because her cancer was detected early.

Breast Conservation

“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, of Premier Surgical is a Parkwest surgeon who specializes in breast cancer. “An alternative is breast conservation surgery, which removes the tumor and a small margin 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

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 evidence that cancer was ever a part of her life.

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.