UT Southwestern Medical Center (UTSW) is using a new device in its efforts to improve breast cancer treatment: the GammaPod.
The first of its type in Texas, the GammaPod allows doctors to use a radiation technique that reduces treatment time and can be less toxic.
UTSW has been using a newer form of radiation therapy called stereotactic body radiation therapy. It is more precise, takes less time and can potentially be less toxic — but the breast constantly moves during treatment using this method.
Dr. Asal Rahimi, an associate professor of radiation oncology at UTSW, explained how the GammaPod addresses that movement problem, and how it ultimately helps make breast cancer treatment more convenient for patients.
Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy VS. Standard Radiation
With standard whole breast radiation, we’ll do the whole breast radiation in four to six-and-a-half weeks of radiation to the entire breast. With stereotactic, it’s somewhere between one to five treatments, and we’re treating a very small area.
Who Would Benefit From The GammaPod?
Anyone who has a breast may be a candidate for GammaPod treatment in different ways:
- In early stage breast cancer, we could use the GammaPod to deliver a stereotactic partial breast technique in one to five treatments, depending on their situation.
- In the pre-operative setting, if we deliver radiation before surgery – which is different from what’s been done in the past – we may be able to do this in one treatment.
- For people at a more extensive stage who need to have their lymph nodes and their breast irradiated, we may be able to shorten their radiation by a week, by doing one treatment of the GammaPod and knock off five treatments.
Another Major Benefit
What has been exciting about this is that we’re trying to increase the convenience of these treatments. Breast cancer treatments have been pretty efficacious over the years, but I think the area we need to improve is the quality of life of patients and trying to minimize the number of times they have to come for radiation treatments.
Why Convenience Matters
Some women can’t get radiation treatments because they can’t afford to come for their radiation treatment, or they may not have transportation or they live too far. Coming in for four to six weeks of treatment is just not feasible for them, so some women may opt instead for a mastectomy instead of maintaining their breast.
Or some people have the mastectomy, but can’t come in for their radiation treatment because it’s not an option for them. If they live in rural areas, they may not have access to a radiation facility. Access and convenience are a pretty big deal in the radiation world.
Answers have been edited for clarity.