Patient: Norwalk Hospital’s new breast cancer treatment ‘a really positive experience’
NORWALK — Cancer runs on both sides of Heather Devine’s family, so when the Southport resident learned in January that she had breast cancer, she said she wasn’t too surprised.
Devine underwent mammograms and MRIs every six months for the last five years and began seeing Dr. Mandy Greenburg at Norwalk Hospital around the time of her diagnosis.
A biopsy was performed in December and a benign tumor was removed from Devine’s breast, but the operation revealed a more insidious batch of early-stage cancerous cells, she said.
In early February the cells were removed, but Devine still needed radiation therapy, which prompted Greenburg to recommend Devine to an expedited chemotherapy treatment trail being conducted at Norwalk Hospital.
The study, conducted by Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan, looks at the efficacy of an expedited radiation therapy treatment for women with early stage invasive breast cancer, said Dr. Pradip Pathare, of Norwalk Hospital’s Whittingham Cancer Center.
Those eligible for the study must be 45 or older and been diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ or early stage invasive breast cancer. The cancerous tumor must measure less than 3 centimeters and be able to be removed with a lumpectomy, according to a hospital statement.
Typically, women with early stage breast cancer who underwent a lumpectomy receive radiation therapy to the whole breast over the course of three weeks, or partial breast treatment over a five- to 10-day period, Pathare said.
In the partial breast treatment study, patients will receive the same total dose of radiation, but in three sessions rather than between five and 10 sessions, Pathare said.
As the same amount of radiation is being used over the three days of treatment, the level of radiation in each treatment will be higher, which is the key factor the study is testing, he said.
The study, which received approval in February and began in March, was born of necessity due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Last year when the pandemic struck and patients were reluctant to go into Manhattan for radiation treatment for fear of catching the virus Memorial Sloan Kettering said let’s see if we can shorten the number of treatments,” Pathare said.
While the immediate results have been positive, it will take at least three years of monitoring to see if the study has truly been successful, as the main concern is long-term effects of the increased radiation doses.
Radiation is typically done in conjunction with a lumpectomy, as the surgery alone leads to a recurrence rate more than twice that of lumpectomy and radiation treatment recipients, Pathare said.
“Dr. Greenburg was very positive and saying, ‘You should go for the trial, it doesn’t disrupt work,” Devine said. “It is a little longer dose of radiation, and I have to say I do feel fatigued. I didn’t anticipate feeling fatigued. The past couple days were really hard, just tiring, but that’s to be expected.”
On April 16, Devine visited Norwalk Hospital’s cancer center for a consultation and simulation of the treatment, when received the radiation treatment for 30 minutes every day from April 20 to the 22, Devine said.
“It’s been a really positive experience, and I can say my other friends have not had the same positive experience with theirs,” Devine said.
Short-term side effects include rashes and sunburn-like reactions in the area that received the radiation, none of which Devine said she has experienced.
Devine was attracted to the trial due to her own line of work in transformation technology for financial services, and looking for ways to improve science and technology. She did not need to take any time off work for the procedure, she said.
“My whole job is to change things and in the beginning, when I first started doing my job, it was really hard because you don’t know how it’s going to turn out, and yet things don’t change unless you go through this process,” Devine said. “If I can change it for somebody else so they don’t have to go through six weeks, I will.”