Whisking Away Cancer with a Wiry Tool

In In The News by Barbara Jacoby

By: Karin McCay

From: kcbd.com

If you like to cook, you probably have a whisk in your kitchen. Mine cost about 4 dollars. Surgeons are using something that looks a lot like a whisk, except it costs about 4 thousand dollars. A lot of women with breast cancer will tell you it is worth every penny.

I met two of those women. Both are grateful they have more time with the people they love. Both found breast cancer very early. So both qualified for the same treatment option.

We followed Peggy Anderson to Joe Arrington Cancer Center where she is starting her cancer fight. We met Karen Palmer at her house where she is happy to be finished with this latest round in her fight against cancer.

Five years ago, Karen had stage 3 ovarian cancer. Today, she is proud to call herself a survivor. However, a few months ago, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She says she asked her doctor, “Do I need a mastectomy?” But Karen says, “She looked at me. ‘Well, I hadn’t even thought of that’ and then she told me about the Savi procedure.” Karen is referring to Dr. Beth Nickels, a surgeon who specializes in breast cancer surgery. Dr. Nickels says she loves to see patients like Peggy and Karen with tumors so small they can safely say no to a mastectomy, no to chemo, and no to traditional radiation over a 6 week period. Instead, she explains, “The Savi treatment is a 5 day course, twice a day.”

First the tumor is removed and the Savi device is implanted. That’s the device that looks like a kitchen whisk. Using a balloon, the wires of the Savi are opened up enough to fill the space in the breast that was left when the tumor and surrounding tissue came out. Dr. Nickels says, ‘They’re under general anesthesia. So there’s no pain and it takes about 50 minutes to do the whole procedure and they start the radiation in 2 or 3 days.”

We followed Peggy in for that radiation, using the Savi Brachytherapy. In this procedure, all the radiation comes from a machine that looks more like a large hair dryer on wheels. Each long wire is numbered with one end connected to the machine. The other end of the wire is plugged by number into Peggy’s implant. We watched from another room as the radiation flies through each wire into Peggy’s breast, targeting specific spots to deliver that radiation inside the breast. Dr. NIckels explains, “It can give more radiation where it’s needed and less where it’s not and there’s no burning of the skin.”

Karen says, “That’s why I chose this. It’s tissue sparing and it’s such an easy recovery and a mastectomy would have been a big recovery.” Peggy allowed us to watch as she received her fourth dose of radiation among 10 treatments in 5 days. From that table in the radiation room, she told us, “I rarely even felt any pressure. It’s just miraculous.”