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SAVI procedure cuts down breast cancer treatment time

October 18, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
If breast cancer is caught early, doctors usually treat it with some type of surgical procedure and radiation. But radiation alone is often spread out over a two-month period.

Now doctors say the SAVI procedure may help some women get back to their normal life within days, versus weeks, of surgery.

Many breast cancer patients receive about six weeks in radiation after surgery, so they get to know their doctors well. But 81-year-old Carolyn Daniels didn't have to spend a lot of time in a doctor's office.

In January, Carolyn had a mammogram that showed the tumor in its early stages.

When Dr. Jeannie Shen removed the tumor, she found the cancer had not spread.

That made Carolyn a good candidate for the SAVI (Strut-Adjusted Volume Implant).

SAVI cuts down the amount of time a patient undergoes radiation treatments, in some cases from six weeks to five days. Through a series of catheters it targets just the area right around the tumor

"The catheter is simply inserted through that into the lumpectomy cavity, and then the catheter is expanded," said Shen.

Carolyn says she didn't feel any discomfort throughout the treatment. She got two treatments each day. The catheter's wires are connected to a powerful radiation source, but Carolyn didn't feel a thing.

The only discomfort? Removing the catheter at the end of the week.

Besides saving patients a lot of time, the five-day treatment has other short-term advantages, including no skin-burning and less fatigue. Doctors say the other big advantage is that you can actually sculpt and tailor your radiation treatment.

"If the dose to the skin to the skin is high, then we have the physicist move the source away from the skin," said Dr. Ruth Williamson, Huntington Hospital.

Only about 1 to 2 percent of patients experience a recurrence. However, chances of infection are a little higher.

Most importantly, the earlier a cancer is caught the more treatment options a woman has.

"When they meet with their breast surgeon or their radiation oncologist, ask. It never hurts to ask," said Shen.

The SAVI procedure isn't appropriate for all breast cancer patients. It's only offered to women who are diagnosed at the earliest stages.

Carolyn said she went back to swimming in about two weeks after her SAVI radiation treatment.

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