Radiation Oncologists Target Breast Cancer,
Spare the Heart
Mary Elliot inhaled deeply. Her lungs filled, pulling her heart away from the chest wall as a dose of radiation targeted her left breast. Mary, now 65, was participating in Deep Inspiration Breath Hold (DIBH), an advanced radiation oncology technique practiced at Orange Coast Medical Center to treat cancer of the left breast and other tumors of the chest or abdomen.
“Radiation therapy is a highly effective treatment for breast cancer,” says Asif Harsolia, M.D., radiation oncologist at Orange Coast, “But when the left breast is treated, the heart is also exposed, which slightly increases the risk of heart disease. By moving the heart, DIBH reduces radiation exposure up to 70 percent. It also reduces exposure to the left lung.”
Extensive treatment options
Mary had her annual mammogram in August 2017 but she was about to leave on a European cruise and had clothes to pack and money to exchange. Cancer was the last thing on her mind. In September, she returned to the breast center for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound which showed a mass. A core biopsy confirmed the diagnosis: Stage IIB invasive ductal carcinoma of the left breast.
At Orange Coast, a multidisciplinary team of specialists determined that a lumpectomy with sentinel node sampling would be the first step in Mary’s treatment. The sentinel nodes are the first few lymph nodes into which at umor drains and are most likely to test positive for cancer. The surgery was performed by Jane Kakkis, M.D., medical director of breast surgery. She removed two lymph nodes, one of which contained cancer cells.
Next came a 12-week course of chemotherapy under the direction of Jack Jacoub, M.D., medical director of the MemorialCare Cancer Institute at Orange Coast, followed by seven weeks of radiation therapy. Mary finished radiation therapy and later underwent a second surgery to ensure that the tissue around the tumor site was free of cancer.
“Breast cancer is a nightmare, but it’s not the end of the world,” says Mary. “Make sure you have annual mammograms, because most breast cancers, caught early, can be cured. There are so many treatment options now and so much more hope.”
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