Some patients may benefit from expedited breast cancer treatment

Volume 9, Issue 3, December 2020


A new protocol may allow treatment to be completed in 10 days with lumpectomy and brachytherapy.

Photograph of Tina J. Hieken, M.D.

Tina J. Hieken, M.D.

When 62-year-old Diana Canty of Converse, Texas, was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in February 2020, she made plans to travel to Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, because of the institution's reputation for excellence in cancer treatment — and then the coronavirus pandemic began.

That meant Diana's first experience with Mayo Clinic was a video appointment in April with breast surgeon Tina J. Hieken, M.D.

Diana then made the journey to Rochester in person, because cancer can't wait. She met with Nicole P. Sandhu, M.D., Ph.D., an internist in the Mayo Clinic Breast Clinic. "She explained the treatment options available to me and also explained that surgeries were temporarily being delayed due to COVID-19," Diana said.

While in Rochester, Diana also met with Dr. Hieken, who offered information about an expedited treatment option for breast cancer.

The expedited breast cancer treatment protocol is available to women with certain types of early stage breast cancer. It allows patients to complete their entire treatment, including surgery and radiation therapy, in less than 10 days, Dr. Hieken said. Women with small breast cancer tumors and no cancer in their lymph nodes may be able to have a lumpectomy performed in an outpatient procedure.

"These patients can leave the operating room the same day as their surgery with a catheter in place, which is used to administer brachytherapy, a form of radiation therapy, post-surgery," Dr. Hieken explained.

After their surgery, patients receive brachytherapy treatment twice a day six hours apart for five weekdays, for a total of 10 treatments, explained Sean S. Park, M.D., Ph.D., a Mayo Clinic radiation oncologist who also was part of Diana's team.

Given concerns about being away from home, especially during a pandemic, Diana thought this treatment option was a perfect fit for her. She was also impressed by the steps Mayo Clinic put in place to help ensure the health and safety of its patients during the pandemic.

Before Diana left Rochester, Dr. Sandhu prescribed an aromatase inhibitor to help slow or even stop the growth of her cancer until she returned to Mayo Clinic in May for her expedited breast cancer treatment.

When Diana returned to Rochester, she stayed for two weeks while she prepared for and received the expedited treatment. Part of the preparation included a blood serum test and a nasal swab to test for antibodies to the COVID-19 virus or an active infection.

Next, Diana prepared for and completed the expedited treatment, which included the surgery and brachytherapy treatments — all in less than two weeks.

"The care I received was perfectly amazing," Diana said. "Dr. Sandhu, Dr. Hieken and Dr. Park made me feel confident and safe in their care. The staff was very reassuring and made me feel like I was in the safest and best place on earth for my care and treatment. I recommend Mayo Clinic to everyone."