New Treatment for Breast Cancer Could Help Some Women Avoid Surgery

Most women diagnosed with early stage breast cancer typically have surgery to remove the tumor, followed by three to six weeks of radiation. But there’s an exciting new development in breast cancer treatment – a first-of-its kind radiation therapy system for early stage cancers that may cut the number of treatments to only a few days.

And, one day, the inventors say, it might even eliminate the need for surgery altogether for some patients.

It’s called the GammaPod, invented by scientists at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently cleared the way for the GammaPod to be used to treat patients with early stage breast cancer, along with surgery to remove the tumor.

A treatment machine that looks like a pod and uses gamma radiation, it has the power to hit a tumor with higher doses of radiation than standard radiation therapy and the precision to avoid damaging the rest of the breast and important organs such as the heart and lungs.

“The GammaPod has the potential to significantly shorten the treatment time to a few sessions or possibly even one treatment,” says inventor Cedric X. Yu, DSc, a physicist who is a clinical professor of radiation oncology. “We envision that one day we’ll be able to neutralize a tumor with a high dose of focused radiation instead of removing it with a scalpel.

“This approach would spare patients the negative side effects of surgery and prolonged radiation treatments, significantly improving their quality of life.” Dr. Yu says.

With advances in imaging and better screening, most breast cancers are diagnosed at an early stage, when the tumor is confined to the breast or nearby lymph nodes but has not spread to distant parts of the body.

A few interesting facts about the GammaPod:

  • It targets a tumor with thousands of precisely focused beams of radiation from 36 rotating sources
  • The patient is treated lying on her stomach with her breast in a vacuum-assisted cup, which is attached to the treatment couch during treatment
  • The couch moves during treatment as radiation “paints” the tumor
  • Treatments take five minutes to 40 minutes

The GammaPod will be available to patients at the University of Maryland Medical Center in Baltimore, Md., in the spring of 2018 and at several other locations in the United States and Canada within a year.

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