Lewis and her husband Jim enjoy a quiet afternoon by the water. Lewis was treated with a new highly targeted type of radiation therapy treatment called Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT).
When she's not working or spending time with one of her 15 grandchildren or 21 great-grandchildren, Middle River’s Joyce Lewis can often be found watching birds from her porch or fishing on her boat. But in the fall of 2013, she found a lump in her breast that temporarily brought that idyllic lifestyle to a halt. “When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ your whole world falls apart,” she says.
“After my mammogram, I had a biopsy that confirmed that I had Stage 1 breast cancer, meaning that it was confined to one small area,” she recalls. “Luckily, I saw Kristen Fernandez, MD, a breast surgeon at MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center, and she was a godsend. She takes her time, draws you pictures to illustrate what she’s saying and lets you get your feelings out. She’s wonderful.”
Lewis was fortunate to be at one of the few medical centers offering a new highly targeted type of radiation therapy treatment called Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT). With IORT, select patients undergoing a lumpectomy, in which only a portion of the breast is removed, receive a single dose of radiation following the procedure.
Dr. Fernandez, Breast Center director, explains, “With IORT, women get their surgery and radiation therapy completed on the same day. The radiation oncologist comes into the OR immediately following the lumpectomy, and gives a single dose of radiation therapy before I close the lumpectomy incision. The woman avoids having to wait several weeks after her lumpectomy to receive radiation therapy, and has everything taken care of in a single procedure, rather than having radiation administered over five to six weeks.”
Generally speaking, women who are good candidates for IORT are post-menopausal and have early-stage breast cancer with a small tumor that has been caught at an early stage—before it has spread. Possible candidates meet with the surgeon and a radiation oncologist before the operation.
“We’ve performed the procedure on about 50 carefully selected women in the past 18 months," notes Dr. Fernandez. “IORT allows us to deliver more targeted radiation directly to the spot where the tumor was. It only takes about 30 minutes, and women go home the same day. The side effects are typically limited to some soreness and scar tissue, similar to the side effects of lumpectomy alone. With traditional radiation therapy, the entire breast receives radiation, which can affect surrounding areas, such as the heart and lungs.”
"I almost never miss a day of work,” says Lewis, a 66-year-old bookkeeper. “When Dr. Fernandez first suggested IORT I was hesitant, but I researched it and decided it was right for me. I didn’t have to miss any work, compared to having to undergo radiation therapy twice a week for six weeks. And if my cancer were to recur, I could still get traditional radiation therapy to treat it.”
Studies have found that IORT survival rates are comparable to those with traditional radiation. It kills any tiny cancer cells that might be remaining at the tumor site—the area where cancer is most likely to return.
“I’ve had no side effects and I feel pretty good,” Lewis states. “I’m a survivor, and everything went so well. And my husband has been a great support. We laughed, we cried and he was by my side every minute.”
“The whole team at the Breast Center is outstanding,” she exclaims. “No matter what issue or concern you have, they’ll take the time to talk to you. If any woman is considering IORT, I would strongly recommend it. It can give you your life back.”
For a physician referral, please call 1-877-715-HOPE.
Comprehensive breast cancer services are available at:
MedStar Franklin Square Medical Center
The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Cancer Institute
9103 Franklin Square Drive
Baltimore, MD 21237
Other locations offering breast cancer services:
MedStar Good Samaritan Hospital
5601 Loch Raven Boulevard
Baltimore, MD 21239
MedStar Harbor Hospital
The Cancer Center
3001 South Hanover St.
Baltimore, MD 21225
MedStar Union Memorial Hospital
201 East University Parkway
Johnston Professional Building
Baltimore, MD 21218
Breast Cancer Center at Bel Air
104 Plumtree Road
Bel Air, MD 21015
MedStar Health Women and Children’s Care
2080 York Road
Timonium, Maryland 21093