SEATTLE -- A Seattle woman is the first in the country to undergo a new breast cancer treatment. She called it "a no brainer." Her doctor called it historic.
Even before her mammogram, Terri Kittleson knew something was wrong. She had painful swelling in one breast, and her mind went to the worst possibility before her doctor's office confirmed it.
"I got a phone call on my way walking into work that I had breast cancer. So your mind goes crazy," Kittleson said.
At the Swedish Cancer Institute, doctors laid out a new treatment plan.
First, she needed surgery to remove the lump. But then, instead of weekly visits for radiation to ensure the cancer was gone, Kittleson could be the first patient to have breast microseed treatment. Her radiation oncologist implanted as many as 100 tiny radioactive seeds, each emitting a precise dose before becoming inert.
The procedure has been used in prostate cancer treatment for nearly 20 years. And breast cancer patients have had access to similar, condensed radiation treatments, but this is the first time a cancer center in the U.S. has offered the treatment in a one hour procedure.
"This is a historic moment for us," said radiation oncologist Dr. Steve Eulau of Swedish Cancer Center. "To be able to take women who would otherwise be consigned to weeks and weeks of treatment with skin reactions and a lot of fatigue, and to be able to accomplish their treatment in a one day, one hour procedure is breathtaking."
After doing its job, each seed's titanium casing is considered harmless and stays in the body. Teri shouldn't notice them. And more importantly, she shouldn't need them. Dr. Eulau told her the chances of her cancer coming back are "really small." Mercer Island based Concure Oncology says 96.4 percent of women are still disease free after five years.
Dr. Eulau said the procedure will save the breast for some women, noting patients who live in rural areas often aren't able to make repeat radiation appointments. That means they might only have the choice of a mastectomy. Even though Kittleson lives close enough for weekly visits, she liked the idea of getting her radiation while moving on with her life.
"It just seemed convenient. It made sense," she said.
Breast microseeds aren't for everyone. Patients must be over 50 years old with early stage cancer. While Swedish is the first cancer center in the U.S. to offer the procedure, it's been used in Canada since 2004. Concure hopes to expand to other U.S. centers soon.