More than 1.7 million Americans will receive a cancer diagnosis this year. Many of them will hear the words, “You have breast cancer.” But thanks to advancements in medical technology and rapid health progress, many of them will also hear, “There’s a treatment that can help you.”
The medtech industry invests more than $2 billion dollars each year into research and development around cancer tools and cures. Intelligent genetic testing can help women evaluate their likelihood of developing breast cancer, imaging technologies can help detect the presence and type of breast cancer in a patient, and cutting-edge diagnostic testing can help indicate which cancer therapies will work best at the individual patient level. The most familiar medtech tool in the fight against breast cancer, mammography technology, has driven a 20% reduction in risk of dying from breast cancer.
When breast cancer survivor Lisa Bridges walked into Dr. Robert Kuske’s office, she didn’t know many of the statistics surrounding breast cancer care or the medtech industry. She just knew she needed to get better. Fortunately for Lisa, Dr. Kuske is one of the world’s leading oncologists, having chaired Radiation Oncology at the famed Ochsner Clinic in New Orleans and the breast cancer program at the University of Wisconsin before joining Arizona Breast Cancer Specialists in Scottsdale, Arizona.
After reviewing Lisa’s diagnosis, Dr. Kuske recommended external beam radiation therapy, the most common therapy assigned to breast cancer patients. In fact, more than 50% of cancer patients – including a large number of breast cancer patients – rely on some type radiotherapy to reduce their cancers and lead them into remission. External beam radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to destroy cancer cells and prevent them from returning. Dr. Kuske and his team carefully determined the correct angles for aiming the beams as well as the proper dose of beams for Lisa’s individual case.
Lisa began her course of external beam radiation, visiting Dr. Kuske’s office for just 5-7 minutes 5 days each week for a total of 6 weeks. Lisa describes that the machine that delivered her treatment “makes some noises, but is in fact soothing.” Lisa reported no pain or pressure during her treatments; external beam radiation is much like getting a typical X-ray, so the procedure itself is painless.
After each treatment, Lisa was able to return to her job and family; after her course of external beam radiation, Lisa was able to enter into remission.
Lisa’s story can help inform the future of cancer treatment and radiotherapy. Every day, new discoveries happen, new clinical trials materialize, and new technology enters the market. Researchers have developed radiation techniques that better aim at a specific tumor area, inspiring more targeted treatment and allowing more of the healthy breast to be spared. Researchers have also worked to improve treatment delivery methods, increasing patient access and convenience.
Dr. Kuske himself – alongside a group of his colleagues from New Orleans – pioneered a revolutionary medtech application called “accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI).” APBI shrinks a conventional 6 week radiation therapy treatment into five days of larger targeted doses. APBI has already shown promising results in international clinical trials. Many patients have experienced fewer short-term side effects and a quicker recovery following treatment.
Radiotherapy will continue to evolve dramatically, and health care providers like Dr. Kuske will continue to work with patients like Lisa to ensure better patient outcomes. To future patients facing this landscape, Lisa gives one critical piece of advice: focus on the big-picture strides in treatment and in caregiving, not on late-night, rabbit hole internet searches. Medtech is committed to making these big-picture strides a reality for patients around the world, so that, one day, breast cancer might be a problem of the past.