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Sharp Health News

Breast cancer treatment in fewer days, fewer side effects

Oct. 14, 2020

Partial breast irradiation: curing cancer from the inside out

A breast cancer diagnosis can be challenging and filled with difficult decisions. Often, treatments involve surgical procedures, chemotherapy or radiation therapy, all of which may have unpleasant side effects.

For some women, an option after a lumpectomy that may reduce side effects from radiation treatment is a procedure called accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI).

To ensure APBI is the best option for a particular patient, a surgeon and radiation oncologist carefully review each potential case. Generally, women who have smaller tumors and whose cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes are good candidates.

APBI is a localized form of radiation, which involves the temporary insertion of a tiny radioactive seed — no bigger than a grain of rice — through a specialized catheter to destroy any remaining cancer cells. During the course of treatment, the catheter device temporarily remains in the space where the tumor was removed.

One benefit is that treatment is significantly shorter, delivered over five days versus a five-to-seven-week course of traditional radiation. APBI also provides highly targeted radiation while protecting organs and tissue close to the breasts.

“For most patients with breast cancer, high-energy X-ray beams target the breast from outside of the body,” says Dr. Kelly DeWitt, a board-certified radiation oncologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital.

“With APBI, we deliver radiation directly to the area where the tumor used to be and treat from the inside out, instead of from the outside in. This allows us to deliver an adequate dose while protecting other structures in the body.”

She adds that by treating the tumor bed from the inside out you avoid one of the more common side effects from breast radiation, which is a skin reaction that can feel like a sunburn. “The main advantages are a shorter course of treatment and fewer side effects from radiation,” Dr. DeWitt says.

However, as with any invasive procedure, there is a chance for infection. Patients are carefully monitored and the radiation team is involved throughout the entire process to reduce risk.

“Some of my happiest patients are the ones who underwent accelerated partial breast irradiation,” she says. “For appropriately selected patients, the 10-year cure rates are extremely high, equivalent to standard radiation therapy for patients with the same stage tumor at over 95 percent.”

If you have been diagnosed with breast cancer, talk to your care team about different options that may be available for you, including APBI, depending on your specific type of cancer.

Learn more about breast cancer care at the Cancer Centers of Sharp.

For the news media: To talk with Dr. Kelly DeWitt about accelerated partial breast irradiation for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at

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