Dr. Stephen Grobmyer was instantly intrigued by the concept when he first heard about it 10 years ago. The idea that patients with breast cancer need only undergo a single targeted radiation session during surgery versus weeks of radiation therapy seemed a monumental step forward in cancer care.
"The concept was radical," says Grobmyer, head of surgical oncology at the Cleveland Clinic. "Many people were skeptical that this new technology would be an effective treatment for early-stage breast cancer."
When Grobmyer heard about a clinical trial for intraoperative radiation therapy, he signed on and started offering the single-session treatment in 2010.
Traditionally during breast-cancer radiation therapy, a high-energy laser beam is aimed at a patient's entire breast in an attempt to destroy any lingering cancer cells. It's a highly effective treatment, reducing the recurrence of breast cancer by up to 50 percent, but it also requires a grueling schedule of hospital visits. Patients often come in for treatment five days a week for five to six weeks.
Intraoperative radiation therapy is delivered to a patient during surgery. As soon the tumor has been removed, doctors shine a highly concentrated laser beam on the tissues that had once surrounded it. The beam delivers the equivalent of several weeks of radiation treatment. In 80 percent of the cases, after patients wake up, they require no additional radiation therapy, says Grobmyer who has treated more than 90 people using the technology.
"It allows patients to return much more quickly to their normal pattern of life and is associated with a more rapid recovery overall," Grobmyer says.