Brachytherapy delivers radiation to at-risk area to kill remaining cancer cells

LOS ANGELES

They start early in the Baratiak household. From the youngest to the oldest, music is in their blood. It was music that helped Nina Baratiak make it through some tough days.

"I had a tumor in my left breast. My brain just shut down like, 'What? Really?'" said Baratiak.

After a lumpectomy, Baratiak chose to try a new type of radiation to kill any remaining cancer cells.

"Brachytherapy is a much more precise treatment. It delivers radiation right to the area at risk right after surgery," said Dr. Rakesh Patel, past chairman of the American Brachytherapy Society and director of breast cancer services at Western Radiation Oncology.

Traditionally, cancer patients undergo external beam radiation therapy to treat the whole breast. It is 15 minutes, five days a week for six weeks. It's potentially damaging to nearby skin and tissues. Brachytherapy is more targeted, delivering radiation from the inside out, 10 minutes a day for just five days.

"It really hones in to that area and preserves a lot of that healthy tissue," said Patel.

At the doctor's office, a radiation seed is fed through a device into the area where the tumor was removed, allowing doctors to precisely program how much radiation is given and when. While it takes a lot less time, studies show the recurrence risk for many women treated with brachytherapy is the same as those who go through whole breast radiation.

Brachytherapy is not for all women diagnosed with breast cancer. It works best on women with early stage breast cancer. Baratiak is almost a year out from surgery and is cancer-free.

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