New method eases treatment for breast cancer

Staff Writer – Casa Grande, AZ Dispatch

10-22October 22, 2009 — A new advance in medical science is enabling people of all ages to be treated for breast cancer within days.

Eva Kluckert of Maricopa is an 86-year-old woman originally from Berlin, Germany. She migrated to Canada before finally settling in the United States in 1956. Kluckert has a history of breast cancer in her family. She was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in August. This is the earliest stage of detection, which meant that Kluckert had more options available to her than others who weren’t as fortunate.

“I went in for a routine check-up and I didn’t have any symptoms. When they told me what it was, it took my breath away,” Kluckert said.

There are four stages of breast cancer, each determined by examination of breast tissue removed during a mastectomy or lumpectomy. Because of the early nature of the disease, she was a candidate for a relatively new treatment called Axxent electronic brachytherapy. This new procedure produces the same results as the traditional method, but reduces the treatment time to two treatments a day for five days. This was ideal for her because she lives an hour away from the treatment center.

Traditionally, the most common post-operative treatment is whole breast irradiation, which is a six- to seven-week process of delivering external doses of radiation to the body. Brachytherapy is radiation therapy that delivers an internal dose from where the cancer was removed or next to the existing tumor. Electronic brachytherapy is a new form of radiation therapy that uses an electronic, non-isotopic source to generate X-rays. This allows treatment to be delivered in a minimally shielded environment, which enables the doctors to be in the same room as the patient during treatment.

The procedure is done by inserting the Axxent balloon applicator into the tumor cavity through a small incision in the skin. The balloon comfortably remains inside the patient for the remaining days of treatment. Each patient has a personal treatment plan centered on delivering the appropriate levels of radiation to the cavity. The X-ray source delivers the same dose of radioactive isotopes to the specific areas, but decreases the radiation exposure to surrounding organs and tissue.

During the five days of treatment, Kluckert and her son, Eric Vander, stayed at a hotel near the center. Vander was able to stay in the same room as his mother during the two, 15-minute doses each day.

“I was happy my son got to be with me. It made me feel more comfortable about what I was going through, even though the treatment was bearable,” Kluckert said.

After the five days of treatment are over, the balloon is removed and the incision heals within a day without stitches.

Dr. Ajay Bhatnagar is Kluckert’s physician at Cancer Treatment Services Arizona in Casa Grande. Currently his facility is the only one in Arizona practicing this revolutionary breakthrough.

“We anticipate as the new positive data continues to compare to the old data, this will become the new standard in care for breast cancer,” Bhatnagar said.

The short treatment time of the new method opens many doors for people suffering from the disease. Bhatnagar said that statistically the farther patients live from a radiation facility, the more likely they are to get a mastectomy because they cannot travel constantly for treatments. Also, he said partial breast irradiation is better because it focuses directly on the cancerous spot and 90 percent of all re-occurrences happen in the original spot where the cancer was located.

Although this new treatment shows very promising results, because it is still new, patients selected to participate must qualify under specific standards. These include early detection, good surgical margins and many thorough examinations.

Kluckert is still fighting her battle. She still has a series of tests to take that will determine whether further treatment is necessary. Although there is no clear ending to this chapter in her life, her struggles were made easier by electronic brachytherapy.

“The treatment was bearable. I would recommend it to anyone in need of treatment,” Kluckert said.