Memorial begins more targeted treatment of early stage breast cancer

MemorialMemorial Hospital surgeons and radiation oncologists recently performed the first Intraoperative Radiation Therapy procedure in Southern Colorado, a treatment option now available in the region only at Memorial that will fundamentally improve the experiences of patients undergoing breast cancer therapy, according to a news release.

Traditionally, breast cancer patients undergo lumpectomy, or removal of the tumor, followed by six weeks of daily radiation therapy to eradicate cancerous cells that may have been left behind after the surgery. In the IORT procedure, surgery removes the tumor — as surgeon Dr. Laura Pomerenke and her team did on the first patient at Memorial —and then a special balloon device is secured in the surgical cavity while the patient is asleep on the operating room table.

 The device delivers focused radiation directly to the area previously occupied by the tumor — the area where cancerous cells may have unavoidably been left behind. After the device is removed from the patient, the surgical incision is closed in a routine procedure.

“The benefit is that IORT delivers radiation directly to the area at risk while the patient is asleep, which eliminates the need for some or all of the daily treatments that are typically given after surgery,” said Dr. Joshua Petit, a University of Colorado Health radiation oncologist who has performed several dozen IORT procedures at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins since 2011. Since UCHealth began its lease of Memorial Hospital in October 2012, the system has been working to bring the IORT option to Colorado Springs by sharing the portable Xoft Electronic Brachytherapy System, the release said.

On June 24, 2014, the first patient to elect IORT in Southern Colorado underwent the procedure.

“We’re very happy that they’re able to bring that machine here. It took care of everything in one shot, rather than going back and forth and back and forth for radiation,” said Emilie Fiedler, 79, a Colorado Springs resident and the first patient to undergo the surgery. “It all came together so nicely. It started healing and got better and better. It’s just a wonderful thing.”

Radiation Oncologist Dr. Jane Ridings, medical director for radiation oncology at Memorial, performed the IORT on Fiedler at the hospital’s Outpatient Surgery Center in Colorado Springs assisted by Memorial physicist Jack Towery. Ideal candidates for IORT are low-risk, early stage breast cancer patients who would normally have a lumpectomy followed by radiation.

“Breast cancer is very common. Breast cancer radiation is very commonly needed. Frankly, it’s a treatment that does take up a lot of time for many women that will require them to come back for five to six weeks,” Ridings said. “If we can make this more convenient, particularly for those in outlying areas such as Lamar or Cripple Creek, it really will improve the comfort, the efficiency and even the cost of the treatment.”

“It’s all about options,” Pomerenke said. “It’s about making the treatment more tolerable. We feel very fortunate we have a system we’re connected to that has these resources – not just the physical piece of it, not just the machine, but the people as well. It is great to work as a team and have discussions on how to make it better for patients.”

 At Memorial, three breast surgeons, two radiation oncologists and a physicist are now trained in the IORT procedure.

Yearly mammograms are recommended for women starting at age 40. Digital screening mammography with Memorial’s Mary Lou Beshears Breast Care Center is available at Memorial’s Briargate and Printers Park Medical Plaza locations. For more information about breast care services at Memorial, visit www.memorialbreastcenter.org. For more information about the Xoft system, visit www.xoftinc.com/treating_iort.html.