WASHINGTON (WUSa9) -- When it comes to breast cancer, early detection saves lives. It's also a way to have simpler treatments and live a normal life span.
One relatively new treatment in D.C. gives eligible patients weeks of radiation therapy in a single dose, immediately after surgery.
State Farm agent Mary Shanholtzer was three years overdue for an annual mammogram. She finally scheduled one after a woman she didn't even know asked her during a phone call "When was the last time you had a mammogram?"
It turns out her new Buddy was Marie Kissinger, a State Farm customer and a radiology imaging technician who worked less than a quarter mile from her job in Waldorf, Maryland.
"I'm a procrastinator when it comes to my health," admitted Mary.
She added, "I thought I wasn't at greatest risk because there was no family history."
Mary was thrown for a loop when she learned the mammogram detected a Stage 1 malignant lesion. But it was discovered so early, she chose to have a lumpectomy.
However, it also meant driving a daily 60-mile round trip from Southern Maryland to Georgetown Hospital for nearly 7 weeks to receive radiation treatments.
Mary told us, "Five days a week. I work full time. I don't want to leave this job."
In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, transportation issues are the second greatest barriers to follow-up care. However, Mary was an excellent candidate for a state of the art procedure called IORT.
Dr. Shawna Wiley, Breast Surgeon told us, "IORT stands for Intraoperative Radiation Therapy."
Dr. Shawna Wiley is director of MedStar's Regional Breast Health Program & Mary's breast surgeon at Georgetown. She explained, "We limit this to women over 50, with tumors two centimeters or smaller and limited to women who are node negative...meaning, they don't have any cancer that's spread."
Here's how IORT works: Once the lumpectomy is completed, the surgical team steps aside and the radiology team moves in and positions the Intrabeam IORT. On the end of that is called the applicator. It will be placed inside the tumor bed so that radiation can be delivered directly to the site.
The one time, low dose radiation takes a little more than 30 minutes, based on the size of the tumor cavity. The results are just as effective as whole breast radiation, but without damaging any surrounding healthy tissue.
Dr. Eleni Tousimis, a Breast Surgeon, told us, "The real advantage of this, you can have it twice if they need it again in the future and still save the breast."
Once it's over, the patient is taken to recovery. Then the patient is released later the same day.
Mary described her experience: "They gave me painkillers, they gave me nausea medication and I never needed either."
Mary only missed four days of work.
Again, IORT candidates must be over 50, have an early stage tumor under 2 centimeters in size, with no lymph node involvement. Currently, MedStar Georgetown & MedStar Washington Hospital Center are the only two hospitals in DC offering IORT.