New Breast Cancer Treatment Plan Could Reduce Mastectomies

Oct 3, 2016

In this photo, Jen Brodeur, right, Tufts Medical Center mammographer prepares Yan Ling Zhong of Boston for a digital mammogram.
Credit Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP for College of American Pathologists

The most common treatment for women with breast cancer is a lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy. But a growing number of patients who have pacemakers or mini defibrillators are recommended by doctors to opt for a mastectomy, for fear of negatively impacting those devices.

“Mastectomy is a devastating things for some ladies,” said Dr. Mark Trombetta with the Allegheny Health Network Cancer Institute. “For those (who) don’t have to have it, it’s a wonderful thing to not have it.”

Trombetta’s team has developed a procedure using common radiation equipment, allowing for a less invasive treatment.

“We didn’t want something that was unique to our hospital system because it’s impractical for people to travel from all over the country to us,” Trombetta said. “So we wanted to develop a technique that could be universally implemented.”

The procedure involves carefully planning radiation dosage levels and targeting treatment to avoid pacemakers.

The procedure was presented as an abstract at a conference in Boston and it will be published to a broader audience soon. Despite the competitive nature of health care, Trombetta said publishing the protocols for all doctors to see was the “right thing to do.”

“We don’t particularly care about anything but giving patients the best care possible,” Trombetta said.

During trials, Trombetta said only one of the 20 women studied had problems with their pacemakers and after three years the treatment outcomes for all 20 women were on par with patients without pacemakers who received more traditional treatment.

Trombetta said it’s possible the procedure could be used to treat other cancers in the future, such as lung cancer which is also near implanted devices. Patients with cancers that are not near their pacemakers or other assisted pacing devices, such as automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator, can usually receive standard radiation treatments, according to Trombetta.