SANTA MONICA BLVD — Through the emotional stress and burden of battling breast cancer, Stephanie Philp found a silver lining.
Worried about the financial loss from missing an extensive number of work days during radiation, which typically takes six to eight weeks, the Marina del Rey resident learned she was eligible to receive a revolutionary treatment that would substantially cut down the visits to the doctor.
She is among the first female patients in the United States to have accessed the latest in radiation technology, undergoing a procedure at the Santa Monica Cancer Treatment Center where doctors have relatively recently been using a new applicator that results in a more effective and quicker process, taking days rather than weeks.
Opting for breast brachytherapy — treating internally — instead of whole breast irradiation — external treatment — allowed Philp to continue with her work life uninterrupted, visiting the doctor twice a day for one week.
“It worked out perfectly,” Philp, who manages a physical therapy clinic, said. “I was able to work and do my job and the only issues were more of a mental nature in that it was a stressful time period.”
Part of breast conservation therapy, which involves a lumpectomy — the removal of a tumor and surrounding tissue — and follow-up radiation, the new procedure includes the use of a SAVI applicator, which is made up of multiple catheters that allows a more even dosage of radiation in the breast without scarring the skin. There is a 20-30 percent of the cancer returning without radiation.
“Since there are multiple catheters , we can make it so the skin does not get as much radiation but the target gets the amount we want,” said Dr. David Khan with the Santa Monica Cancer Treatment Center. “The results of this treatment appear to be just as good as conventional external radiation with the advantage of this being far more convenient for the patient.”
The alternative in many cases to breast conservation therapy is the whole breast irradiation, which can be more costly in terms of time taken off from work and travel expenses to find a doctor who performs the treatment.
But the cost isn’t what makes the SAVI a more optimal choice, Khan said.
“The real selling point is that it’s faster and more convenient,” he said.
The center has treated about 10 patients in the year that it has used SAVI. The procedure is said to also have fewer side effects.
Philp, 52, learned about the procedure when doctors told the patient she was eligible because they had caught the cancer early. She was diagnosed last fall.
The morning and afternoon visits took about an hour each with the actual radiation treatment making up about 10 minutes of the session, she said. “The morning sessions were early, starting around 5 a.m.
“I’m very thankful for what I’ve got,” she said.
Khan said that he believes that the applicator could be used to treat other forms of cancer.
“I think we’re getting to a point in time where we’re trying to put catheters inside tumors rather than treat from the outside,” Khan, who specializes in prostate cancer, said. “We do see this type of treatment occurring in other types of the body.”