Radiation can be given during lumpectomy surgery, after the cancer has been removed. This is called intraoperative radiation therapy (sometimes abbreviated as IORT). While the underlying breast tissue is still exposed, a single, high dose of radiation is given directly to the area where the cancer was.
One method of intraoperative radiation uses the linear accelerator (used in external radiation) to deliver an electron beam to the area where the cancer was. Radiation with electrons only goes a short distance and can be concentrated on the area at risk. Special techniques are used to protect the underlying tissue. The procedure takes about 2 minutes and then the surgery is completed as usual.
Another technique is known as high-dose-rate remote afterloading intraoperative radiation. This procedure uses a small tube, which is placed in the area where the cancer was. The tube is connected to a computerized radiation machine, which delivers a high dose of radiation through the tube. The procedure takes about 5 to 10 minutes.
Doctors don’t agree on whether intraoperative radiation therapy is a good alternative to whole-breast radiation after lumpectomy, which is the standard of care. More research is being done to help figure out which women may be good candidates for intraoperative radiation therapy during lumpectomy instead of whole-breast radiation after lumpectomy.
Intraoperative radiation therapy is available only at certain treatment centers. This is because using IORT to treat breast cancer is relatively new and the equipment can be expensive. If you’re scheduled to have lumpectomy and are interested in intraoperative radiation therapy, talk to your doctor. Together you can decide if IORT is a good choice for you as well as whether there is a treatment center in your areas that offers IORT.