Avera Medical Minute AMcK: Sisters receive breast cancer diagnosis and electron-based IORT months apart

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“I think I was totally shocked. I thought, it’s not going to happen to me but it did,” said Mary Jo Hendrickson.

So started Mary Jo’s breast cancer journey – her sister, Beverly Gunderson, by her side every step of the way.

After meeting with breast surgeon Dr. Wade Dosch, Mary Jo decided the best option for her was a lumpectomy. During a lumpectomy, the cancerous area is removed and most of the breast is spared.

“Depending on the woman’s age, we generally would recommend doing radiation therapy after things have healed from surgery. That we know will lower the risk of the cancer coming back. And the traditional radiation that we do is called external beam radiation where little beams of radiation are aimed at the breast tissue, tiny doses, that they get usually Monday through Friday for about six to seven weeks,” said Dr. Dosch.

Dr. Dosch told Mary Jo she was an excellent candidate for electron-based IntraOperative Radiation Therapy. IORT targets the tumor with a high dose of radiation during a lumpectomy.

“One of the advantages of doing it that way is that we have the skin apart so we aren’t radiating the skin which is one of the organs that can be injured or have a reaction to the radiation -- so we’re sparing the skin. One of the research trials that we’re working on right now delivers one single dose of radiation while the patient is asleep during surgery and they don’t need any other radiation,” said Dr. Dosch.

The patient’s breast surgery and radiation is done at the same time.

“Sign me up because considering the ease of the treatment and I have full faith in these guys -- so the effectiveness -- I was all for it and the time saved by doing it,” said Mary Jo.

“I had gone to all her appointments so I knew what was going on. And then when they’d said that I had the same thing, it was kind of like it doesn’t make sense,” said Beverly.

Beverly was diagnosed with breast cancer that same year. She was also a candidate for electron-based IORT.
“I knew what to expect but it was kind of like, I can’t believe we both did it. It was just kind of like, I can’t believe this is what’s going on,” said Beverly.

“It’s kind of unique to have two sisters that have been diagnosed with breast cancer the same year, let alone go through the same type of treatment,” said Dr. Dosch.

“I sold it to Bev, just my experience. I thought everybody, if they are able, it’s the way to go,” said Mary Jo.

“It’s kind of unbelievable because that’s not what happened in the past. And so this is just kind of a unique opportunity to have the radiation and be able to work through it without having to do all the other radiation and all the other side effects,” said Beverly.

“We think that the single dose of radiation is going to be just as effective as the six weeks of external beam radiation. 90% of the cancers are going to recur in an area that’s very small around where the original tumor was and that’s the target area that we’re treating it with the single dose,” said Dr. Dosch.

Electron-based IORT is approved for breast cancer patients over age 60. Their tumors must be small or early stage cancer it’s not approve for cancers that have spread to the lymph nodes.

Avera is the only in the region that offers electron-based IORT.

For more information just call 877-AT-AVERA.