JACKSONVILLE, Fla — When Barbara Morin had her annual mammogram last December, she was expecting to hear that everything was okay.
“They called me back and they said that there was a shadow on the X-ray, and they wanted to take a peek at it,” Morin said.
A biopsy confirmed that shadow was invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common type of breast cancer. It was about the size of a frozen pea.
“I never detected it,” Morin said. “I didn't know it was there.”
Three months later she had a lumpectomy to remove the cancer. And then decided to take part in a clinical trial at Baptist MD Anderson Cancer Center.
“It's looking at treating just the part of the breast where the tumor was, as opposed to the whole breast with radiation,” Dr. Cynthia Anderson, an oncologist at Baptist MD Anderson Center, said. “It's looking at doing it in a shorter amount of time where it potentially can now be as short as one week.”
Dr. Anderson says the trial is open to those with early-stage breast cancer who have had a lumpectomy and have not had their whole breast removed.
“We put my name in for the study, and I guess there was a whole bunch of other candidates in there and they evaluated all the data from our testing,” Morin said. “They came back and said, ‘Well you get to do radiation for just one week.’ I was like, ‘Yay!’”
Barbara's treatment lasted only five days, just a few minutes of radiation each day.
“This is a new way for us to be able to do it. It typically would take six weeks, and it would typically be five weeks of radiation to her whole breast and then one week of radiation to that part of the breast,” Dr. Anderson said. “What we're looking at now is if it's only in that little part of the breast, maybe we only need to radiate that part of the breast. It doesn't have to take six weeks.”
Dr. Anderson says there's no longer a cookie-cutter approach to treating breast cancer. It's now very individualized treatment.
“The amount of burden that the treatment takes on a patient's personal life has become a lot less, and we still have the same confidence level of a really high cure rate,” Dr. Anderson said. “What we see with patients with small early-stage tumors is that the cure rates are running 97% to 99%.”
For Barbara, the future is bright.
“As it turned out, I didn't need the chemo. The radiation worked extremely well, and it was a very pleasant experience.”
Dr. Anderson says Barbara now has no evidence of cancer.
“For that reason, I feel like we can use the word cure,” Dr. Anderson said.
Barbara and her doctor encourage women not to skip their annual mammograms and to do regular breast self-exams because early detection can not only save lives but can also mean less intense treatment.
“It is nowhere near a death sentence,” Barbara said. “There are a multitude of treatments and because every case is different you don't know what your particular requirements are going to be. But it is something that you definitely should get tested for. And in the event that you do get a diagnosis of cancer. There is plenty of hope and support out there.”
If you're interested in learning more about this clinical trial or enrolling in it, it's called the Opal Trial.