Healthwatch: Fighting Breast Cancer

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Michele O'Neil is quite upbeat for a woman who is about to undergo surgery for breast cancer. She's smiling because in 10 days her radiation treatments will be finished and the immediate threat of cancer will be eliminated.

Most breast cancer patients follow surgery with six weeks of radiation. While it saves lives, some women experience side effects like skin irritation and fatigue. They also spend a lot of time in treatment.

"If I could avoid that, I would be thrilled," said O'Neil.

A new procedure called mammosite cuts six weeks down to five days. The rice-sized radiation source is delivered through a balloon catheter.

The tiny radioactive source is delivered through tubes and into the balloon catheter. The source is then pulled back and the patient goes home.

USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center was one of the first to test mammosite. After three years of study, doctors say the results are just as good as traditional therapy.

Mammosite is recommended for women with early-stage cancer. For Michelle, hearing the words cancer was scary. Hearing about the treatment was not.

Mammosite is currently recommended for tumors three centimeters of less, but scientists are working on larger balloons in different shapes to help treat women with larger tumors.

USC Norris Cander Center, Cedars Sinai, Kaiser, Glendale Adventist and Long Beach Memorial in California, offer the treatment.