Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT)

Virginia Mason, in Seattle, Washington, is the first medical center in Washington state to offer intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) to treat women with early stage breast cancer.

Radiation therapy helps prevent breast cancer recurrence by eliminating microscopic cancer cells following treatment with surgery. The standard method of radiation therapy requires daily radiation to the whole breast for a total of three to six weeks. Even newer partial-breast irradiation techniques require 10 treatments over five days.

Now a much faster, more localized method of radiation treatment is available for patients following lumpectomy for breast cancer. Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) is a one-time treatment administered into the tumor bed at the time of breast surgery. With IORT, a radiation oncologist and physicist work with the breast surgeon to deliver an effective dose of radiation in a single session. Immediately after removal of the tumor, a highly localized radiation dose is directly delivered to the tumor site. Once the portable therapy unit is set up for treatment, IORT takes only minutes to administer for most patients. Upon completion of the radiation treatment, the delivery catheter is removed and the incision is closed to complete the procedure.

The significant benefits of intraoperative radiation therapy over standard radiation therapy include:

  • Treatment at the time of operation — All the radiation that's needed to help prevent cancer recurrence is delivered in the operating room as soon as the tumor is removed.
  • Less risk to healthy tissues — During IORT, healthy tissues that can be harmed with traditional radiation techniques are moved aside or shielded. This allows radiation to be delivered into the tumor bed while minimizing or eliminating radiation dose to critical normal structures, such as the skin, lungs and heart.
  • One treatment versus multiple treatments — IORT lets patients complete radiation therapy in one application, avoiding multiple trips to the hospital for standard radiation treatments.
  • Recurrences can be treated again — Unlike patients who have standard external-beam radiation which can be administered only once, IORT patients who experience a recurrence may be able to have another lumpectomy followed by radiation if needed.

Who is eligible to have intraoperative radiation therapy?

Potential candidates for breast IORT are women aged 45 or older with a new diagnosis of early-stage breast cancer who are planning to undergo lumpectomy. Virginia Mason's breast cancer specialists work in partnership with every patient to determine the best individual treatment options. IORT requires the expertise of a radiation oncologist who will consult with the patient to form a treatment plan and deliver the therapy during surgery. Since IORT is a new technique used to treat breast cancer, Virginia Mason only offers this treatment as part of a clinical study to patients who meet study eligibility criteria. Patients will be monitored over time to determine the effectiveness of treatment.

For more information or to discuss if you may be a candidate for IORT, contact one of our Breast Cancer Nurse Coordinators at (206) 223-8862.