There are a lot of unpleasant parts about breast cancer treatment, but we think many people would agree that one of the worst is having to return to the hospital day after day for chemotherapy or radiation treatments. It’s an uncomfortable place with unfamiliar sounds and smells, and many patients find it hard to relax there. The drive there and back can also be inconvenient for those who don’t live near their treatment location, especially if they’re feeling sick on the way home.
But what if there was a way to spend less time at the hospital getting treatments? For some, this new one-time “seed” treatment may be nothing short of a miracle. It’s only been tried on two Pittsburgh patients
Take Connie, for example. She suffered through breast cancer once before and was treated with both chemotherapy and radiation. The radiation treatment required her to travel to the hospital every day for 25 days and deal with painful red skin, exhaustion, and fluid and inflammation around her heart. When she was diagnosed a second time 19 years later, she knew she didn’t want to go through that again.
Connie’s doctor gave her three options for radiation treatment: 25 sessions like before, two sessions a day for five days, or a set of radioactive “seeds” inserted into the tumor site after the tumor has been removed.
Having radioactive seeds implanted into the body doesn’t sound like much fun, but Connie knew she didn’t want to be at the hospital every day for the treatment that had caused so many unpleasant side effects and complications for her before. So she decided to give it a go.
“We insert, with very tiny needles, seeds that are kind of injected into the tissue,” says oncologist Dr. Mark Trometta of the Allegheny Health Network. “The body doesn’t recognize them as anything abnormal. Inside there is palladium, which is a radioactive element. Very short half-life, so it gives very focused radiation to a very small area. It doesn’t go through the whole body. It’s very confined, so less side effects. It’s a single treatment instead of multiple treatments. The patient comes in, has seeds placed, and goes home.”
Connie was put under for the procedure, and local anesthetic was used as well. When she was able to go home, she left knowing she wouldn’t have to come back for any more treatments. What a joyous thought!
Some patients may still experience redness and peeling of the skin in the area where the implant is, and a shield must be worn inside the bra to protect anyone the patient will be having close contact with. They must also continue to see a doctor for regular check-ups to make sure everything is going as planned.
But it’s all worth it, because not only do you not have to have multiple treatments, but the treatment is just as effective as traditional radiation, with 96 percent of patients surviving for at least five years. And insurance may cover the majority of treatment costs, like it did for Connie. She has only had to pay $8.15 out of pocket for her procedure.
“The only way to go is with the seeds,” says Connie.
Doctors say the “seed” treatment is best used in women over 50 years of age whose cancer has been caught early and not spread to other areas. Check out the video below to learn about Connie’s experience with this revolutionary new one-time treatment!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?