Although there isn’t a cure for cancer yet, clinical researchers are making great strides in treating this disease—which can attack any area of the body. Here’s a look at some top treatment developments for cancers that plague men and women specifically, along with a new treatment for prostate cancer.
Novel treatments that limit radiation exposure are now being used to treat breast cancer. Stage 0 breast cancer, the earliest form of breast cancer that can be detected, is called ductal carcinoma in situ because it hasn’t yet found a way to leave the ducts in the breast and become invasive. Approximately 50,000 women are diagnosed with this type of cancer annually.
Roshni Rao, MD, FACS, chief of breast surgery, New York Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York, is currently enrolling patients in a study for intra-operative radiation after lumpectomy for these patients. The procedure involves removing cancer surgically with a lumpectomy, and then targeting a single high dose of radiation to the affected area. After closing the incision, the patient is finished with their cancer treatment.
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“Patients get the benefit of having everything done at one time, and minimizing the side effects from radiation of the entire breast,” she says. In comparison, patients who undergo traditional radiation must have treatments daily for three to six weeks that involve the entire breast.
The survival from stage 0 breast cancer is close to 99% with traditional radiation. However, recurrence can be as high as 20% if the tumor is removed with surgery. With targeted intraoperative radiation, early results show recurrence rates less than 5%.
Proton therapy for breast cancer
Proton therapy is an advanced form of radiation treatment that reduces radiation exposure to normal, healthy organs. Although conventional radiation treatment uses photons (traditional x-ray radiation), proton therapy uses protons—positively charged sub-atomic particles.
The main difference between these two treatments is their delivery, says Henry K. Tsai, MD, radiation oncologist, ProCure Proton Therapy Center, an outpatient facility in Somerset, New Jersey. Protons deliver their radiation at exact depths to precisely target tumors, whereas standard X-ray radiation releases radiation from the moment it penetrates the skin to the other side of the tumor and exits the body. With proton therapy, most radiation is deposited exactly at the tumor site and stops, thereby reducing radiation exposure to surrounding normal, healthy tissue and organs.
Proton therapy is particularly beneficial in treating left-sided breast cancer because of the target’s proximity to the heart and lungs. Studies have shown that patients with left-sided breast cancer may be more likely than patients with right-sided breast cancer to develop heart disease or other complications after receiving traditional radiation treatments.
Because protons deposit their energy directly into the tumor and not the tissue behind it, patients have less risk of unnecessary radiation exposure to the heart, lungs, and healthy tissues. “Less radiation to these areas may lower the risk of developing heart disease, lung disease, and secondary tumors decades after radiation treatment,” Tsai says.