A couple of years ago a good friend of mine was diagnosed with breast cancer. She had just lost her job and her father was on the brink of dying. Needless to say, this didn’t help her feel any better about life.
The doctors did save her breast and she’s been fine. However, she had to have 3 surgeries and 7 weeks of radiation therapy. All of which took further toll on her mental, as well as her physical health.
There were shorter methods to take, but at the time, even with the “top” doctor and the internet, my friend didn’t hear about new forms of treatment until I did research for this article.
Mammosite and Contura are the latest forms of Balloon Brachytherapy Radiation available. Both take a mere 5 days, rather than the usual 5-7 weeks of the traditional, older forms of radiation. Both make it possible for the patients to take back their lives with a minimal amount of disruption.
Dr. John West of the Breast Cancer and Imaging Center of Orange County in Orange and Dr. Kenneth Tokita of the Cancer Center of Irvine answered my questions about both Brachytherapies that are provided in their facilities. Both are in Southern California. Susan Corlett and Sandra Mc Carthy also in Orange County, California gave their views from the patients prospective.
What exactly is Mammosite and Contura?
Dr. West describes Mammosite as a 5 day targeted balloon procedure. After a lumpectomy a catheter is inserted and “seeds” of radiation are fed through and placed in exact pre-determined spots twice a day at 6 hours apart. Because they are placed in a specific spot or spots-higher daily doses are used. The side effects aren’t are devastating and the patient can usually go about her daily life. After the fifth day, the catheter is removed, the incision dressed and the patient goes back to her regular activities.
Susan Corlett, almost 85 years young, had a lumpectomy and Mammosite after a recurrence of breast cancer two years ago.
Corlett said it allowed her to go on with her regular daily activities. While she did have some bouts of being tired, it wasn’t enough to really slow her down. “Two weeks after I was done, I was on a plane to Virginia to spend the holidays with my son and his family”.
The difference between her first experience twelve years ago and this time? After her first diagnosis she was very tired and had some burns on her skin-plus it took almost two months to finish the just the radiation part of the cancer. This time? “The best part was that I could keep up with my activities and I still have my bosom! The worst, which was really nothing, was a bit of discomfort after the catheter was removed and the incision was healing.”
Both Corlett and Sandra Mc Carthy recommend that when a woman hears a diagnosis for breast cancer that they not be afraid. They feel your should educate yourself with all possible choices. When it’s over-help educate others! Get the word out about getting your mammograms on a regular basis.
What is the difference between Mammosite, which has been around since 2000 and it’s latest cousin Contura by Senorx?
Dr. Kenneth Tokita, a Radiation Oncologist who has been doing Contura for almost a year, explains it this way:
“It is a more pinpoint and revolutionary method. I had been using (and he does still use this method, but not nearly as often) Mammosite when I first read about Contura in, of all things, the business section of the Orange County Register.
“Here I had been a progressive Radiation Oncologist for 30 years and I find out about a new groundbreaking medical advancement in my field in my morning newspaper. I called Senorx that day-they came out to my Center almost immediately and trained me on the equipment. Because of my experience, it was quite easy to start using immediately.”
Both doctors are amazed at how far breast cancer treatment has come since they began practicing in the mid-seventies. Success and survival rates have dramatically increased.
Sandra McCarthy had the Contura procedure done last year. She had gone for her regular routine mammogram in July of 2007. It was followed by an ultrasound and a biopsy later the same month. McCarthy’s first surgery, was a lumpectomy with several lymph nodes being removed. It was done at the beginning of August. Taking 3 weeks off for recuperating, the doctors decided there was an “unclear margin” and decided to do a second surgery in October. Before proceeding, McCarthy met with Tokita. He told her about the new Contura, as well as the Mammosite and told her to weigh over her choices. A “substitute” tube would need to be put in to “save a spot” for the Contura catheter should its need arise during her second surgery.
After talking it over with her husband, Mc Carthy went with what Tokita calls “the latest wave of the future” treatment. She had her second surgery on October 8th and had the Contura catheter put in on Friday the 12th. She started her 5-day, twice a day therapy on Monday the 15th.
“From the time I walked in and left each treatment, it was a grand total of 20 minutes. I drove myself, all my doctors talked to each other at least once a week and while I was tired it was nothing devastating or that actually slowed me down. I did take the week off of work because I had to drive back and forth within the 6 hours, but returned to work full time the next week.
“My employers told me I could cut back, but I really didn’t feel the need to go home early. The worst part, which was very minor-like a Band-Aid being ripped off-was the catheter being removed.
“I would highly recommend that if you have the type of breast cancer that can be treated in this way-go for it!”
Tokita adds that “in 1976 the survival rate for patients after 5 years for a mere 25%. Today we are at 92-94% and, when caught early enough, a mastectomy is no longer the preferred treatment. A lumpectomy with one of these new balloon Brachytherapies works better for the patient in so many ways.”
Both West and Tokita recommend that women get a second opinion.