Virginia Mason is the only hospital in the state of Washington to offer a clinical trial of Intraoperative Radiation Therapy, or IORT.
With IORT, a radiation oncologist and breast surgeon work together in the operating room to give a one-time dose of radiation directly to the inside of the breast once the cancerous tumor is removed. No other radiation therapy is needed after that.
By contrast, standard radiation therapy treats the whole breast for a few minutes a day over a three- to six-week period.
“Recent studies have shown that IORT also has a high degree of safety and may be an effective treatment for appropriate patients,” Virgina Mason said in a statement. “Early reports suggest that there is a very low risk of cancer recurring that is comparable to whole breast radiation.
“However, because IORT is a new technique for treating breast cancer, there is not yet enough long-term data to make IORT a standard treatment option.”
Debbie Fiscus, 53, a mother, nurse at Virginia Mason and avid diver , underwent the treatment in March. "The oncologists say the cancer is gone,” Fiscus said. “We're good to go and I'm headed back diving."
Dr. Janie Grumley, an oncoplastic breast surgeon, and Dr. Michelle Yao, a radiation oncologist, are performing the procedure at Virgina Mason.
“We can actually decrease the amount of time they have to do treatment from 3-4 months to one day,” Grumley said. “They can have their surgery, have their radiation treatment and be done with their local treatment of breast cancer."
Marie Barchasch was one of the first to have the treatment. She said that at first, she was skeptical. But after learning she wouldn’t have to do weeks of radiation, lose her hair and stop doing the things she loved, she was on board.
"My surgery was March 13,” Barchasch said. “So three weeks from my diagnosis, they got me in and I had my surgery.
"I felt great," she said Thursday. "There was no pain. I wasn't tired. I wasn't weak. It was a real success."
The cost of IORT is half of traditional breast cancer treatments. Doctors say so far that the results look good.
"I think this is going to be a game-changer and I think this is all about tailoring the treatment," Yao said.