Just What the Patient Ordered
UF Breast Center unveils newest cancer-fighting weapon
Her husband placed the newspaper by her chair, carefully positioned so the article would be the first thing she saw.
Janice Northrup, 83, had been praying for an answer for weeks, ever since her doctors in Ocala told her she would need radiation to treat her early-stage breast cancer. Suffering from extreme claustrophobia, she couldn’t face the idea of five to six weeks of radiation, spending time each day alone, confined in a small space.
“I looked down at the newspaper and right on the front page was the Intrabeam at the University of Florida and a telephone number,” Janice said. “I got on the phone and called. This was a lifesaver.”
Unveiled in November, the Intrabeam is the newest cancer-fighting weapon in the UF Shands Cancer Center’s arsenal. Intrabeam allows doctors to deliver precise doses of radiation in the O.R. after surgery to remove a tumor, shortening what often takes weeks into one 20- or 30-minute session. UF, which is now taking part in Intrabeam clinical trials, is one of fewer than 20 centers nationwide with the technology.
“We’re in the era of personalized cancer therapy, tailored to the type and stage of cancer presented by each patient,” said Stephen Grobmyer, M.D., a UF associate professor of surgery and director of the UF Breast Center. “The Intrabeam system is an important tool in this effort, and it provides excellent results, reduces side effects and dramatically shortens the duration of treatment.”
Unlike traditional radiation, the Intrabeam system uses low-energy X-rays, meaning it poses less risk to other organs and patients don’t have to be confined alone in a small room to be treated.
A trial of the therapy, called TARGIT-A, launched in 2000, showed that Intrabeam is as effective as traditional radiation in preventing tumors from recurring in the breast in cases of early-stage breast cancer.
“Not only is the one-time dose of radiation using Intrabeam just as effective as a full course of external radiation, it is more convenient for the patient and there is less risk involved in terms of damage to the heart, the lungs and the skin,” said Michael Alvarado, M.D., an assistant professor of surgery at the University of California at San Francisco and a TARGIT-A investigator.
Because the radiation is delivered directly to the tumor bed, Intrabeam allows doctors to kill microscopic tumor fragments that might be left behind after surgery, said Paul Okunieff, M.D., director of the UF Shands Cancer Center, who participated in the early design and engineering of the Intrabeam device and was the first to use it in patients during clinical trials to treat brain tumors.
Okunieff said the Intrabeam system has been proven to be effective in the treatment of brain and breast tumors and holds promise for the treatment of many other cancer types, such as head and neck, pancreatic and rectal tumors.
Diagnosed with cancer last fall after a mammogram revealed a mass in her breast, Janice underwent the Intrabeam procedure Dec. 13. It was easier than her biopsy and less uncomfortable than a mammogram, she says.
“Dr. Grobmyer came all the way out to see me after it was over. He said ‘Your wife is completely free of cancer and doing fine,’” said Shaun Northrup, Janice’s husband. “I think this is the best thing going today.”
Aside from a little tenderness, Janice feels back to normal, now. Two weeks after her procedure, the couple even boarded a monthlong cruise around the Caribbean.
“We have been married for eight years and we have been cruising the whole time,” said Janice with a smile. “It’s good to have a partner.”
— April Frawley Birdwell and Lindy Brounley
Best in Breast Care. The UF Breast Center at Shands at UF has received accreditation as a National Center of Excellence in Breast Cancer by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. With UF’s accreditation, only six Florida breast centers are designated as Centers of Excellence. UF’s multidisciplinary Breast Center includes surgeons, radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, nutritionists, physical therapists and a patient navigator, who meet frequently to discuss the treatment plan and progress of every patient. Also, UF recently established a high-risk breast clinic, which sees patients on the first and third Mondays of the month. For more information, visit shands.org/breastcenter