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There are many misconceptions about radiation therapy for treating post-op cancer patients.
However, radiation is often tolerated with side effects generally limited to the treated area. Commonly used for treating breast cancer and reducing the risk for recurrence, it is a highly targeted and significantly effective way to destroy cancer cells that may stick around after surgery.
“For most patients, radiation is a frightening word,” said Dr. Anuj Peddada, radiation oncologist at Penrose Cancer Center. “I explain to patients that it is just like a prescription. If it was not necessary, I would not prescribe it.”
Radiation oncologists determine a specific dose and delivery method according to each patient’s needs. Most patients experience fatigue, redness, dryness and hyper-pigmentation near the treated area, but Peddada noted these symptoms typically resolve within four to six weeks.
Because of the considerable advances in research, oncologists at Penrose Cancer Center have been able to shorten the radiation time frame to reduce the burden on certain patients, especially those who live out of town or have difficulty getting to and from therapy.
“Six weeks of radiation therapy used to be traditional after a lumpectomy,” Peddada said. “But for patients who meet the criteria, we have been able to shorten it to typically only three weeks.”
In some instances, Peddada has been able to also shorten therapy to just one week. Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation (APBI) is utilized for select patients with early stage breast cancer.
“I have been using this method for 12 years,” said Peddada, who was trained by Dr. Robert Kuske a co-developer of APBI. “We have had very promising results, but in terms of a large, long-term study, it is still too early for results.”
When cancer has developed in the left breast, patients are frequently concerned about radiation in such close proximity to their heart. “In those cases, we do a CT scan and develop a plan that targets the cancer while also minimizing exposure to the heart,” Peddada said. “It really presents a very low risk to the heart.”
Penrose Cancer Center, part of the Centura Health Cancer Network, delivers advanced, integrated cancer care across Colorado and western Kansas.
“We are a full service cancer treatment center with all kinds of treatment possibilities, including the latest technology like the innovative radiotherapy system, TrueBeam,” Peddada said.
Radiation therapy has been in use for almost 120 years and Peddada said doctors have continued to get better at planning and controlling doses to provide the most effective treatment, while also the presenting the least risk to the patients.
“We can treat more patients and more cancer types with very high accuracy,” he said.