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Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT)

If you’ve been diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer that will be treated with lumpectomy, you may be eligible for an innovative surgical procedure provided at The University of Kansas Cancer Center.

The cancer center now offers intraoperative radiation therapy, or IORT, for small, early-stage breast tumors. IORT is a single radiation treatment given at the time of lumpectomy, following tumor removal. Having IORT allows patients to avoid conventional breast radiation therapy, which typically starts a month after cancer surgery and requires daily treatments for up to 6 weeks. 

What is IORT?

IORT is a single dose of therapeutic radiation that is delivered during lumpectomy surgery. IORT is directed immediately and precisely where it is needed most – the spot where the cancer was removed. The treatment takes 20-30 minutes. IORT is highly effective because it localizes the radiation inside the breast where the cancer is most likely to recur. The treatment also minimizes radiation exposure to healthy tissue and organs.

IORT is not widely available at this time. However, research published on Aug. 19, 2020, by the journal of BMJ showed a single IORT treatment to be as effective as several weeks of daily postoperative whole-breast radiation.

Who can have IORT?

People with small, early-stage breast cancer (tumors of 3 centimeters or less) may be considered for IORT. With the procedure, you can expect better cosmetic results and improved overall survival. The procedure can also be performed in women who have breast implants.

How does IORT work?

IORT is delivered using a miniature radiation device that is inserted into the lumpectomy incision. The radiation oncologist works alongside the breast surgical oncologist during the procedure. The breast surgeon prepares the operative field, inserting the radiation device into the lumpectomy cavity, then leaves the suite during radiation treatment. Once complete, the breast surgeon then returns to the operating room to close the incision.

KU Cancer Center physician meeting with patient prior to cancer treatment.

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The Women’s Cancer Center at The University of Kansas Cancer Center focuses on breast and gynecologic cancers, providing specialized care to women.

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Benefits and risks of IORT

By offering this treatment, our patients avoid having 15 to 20 radiation treatments after their lumpectomy, in addition to unnecessary stress, travel time and money spent going to treatment. They are done with therapy immediately following surgery and can get back to their families and lives.

IORT also eliminates a range of side effects that often occur with conventional radiation therapy. While conventional radiation is highly successful in preventing breast cancer recurrence, it often leads to extreme fatigue, dryness, itching, swelling and skin color changes in the area receiving radiation. IORT also reduces the amount of radiation delivered to nearby healthy tissue and organs.

What happens during IORT?

IORT is performed during surgery to remove a breast tumor. Your breast cancer care team will determine if IORT is right for your treatment plan.

During surgery, a cancer surgeon will remove the tumor through an incision. A special applicator is then placed in the area where your tumor was removed. This applicator will deliver targeted radiation therapy without harming nearby tissues. The applicator that is used for your surgery will depend on many factors, such as:

  • What best fits the tumor bed cavity
  • Your body weight and size
  • Pathological features of the tumor
  • The location, shape and size of the tumor
  • Your individual preferences

Once IORT is complete, your incision will be closed. Your care team will provide you with any aftercare instructions. The type of applicator that was used during surgery will determine if you need to take any special precautions. However, because of the type of radiation which is used, you will not be radioactive after receiving IORT.

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