It’s not often you hear someone describe their breast cancer treatment as “easy” or say they only missed two days of work. But that was Sandy Michaels’ experience, because of a shorter-course radiation treatment known as hypofractionation. While it’s been considered a standard treatment for at least five years, many cancer programs still don’t offer it.
In hypofractionation, the same amount of overall radiation is split into fewer visits. “You can think of the radiation as a pie,” explained Dr. Kimberly Creach, Mercy radiation oncologist. “We’re splitting it into about 20 pieces instead of 30. You get the same amount in the end, but it takes a lot less time. That lets patients get back to their normal lives much faster. It’s also less expensive.”
Not only that, but studies have shown hypofractionation is just as effective as longer-course treatments and appears to cause fewer skin reactions.
“By the end, my skin was a little red and tender,” Michaels said. “I used a little cream and that helped, but it wasn’t terribly painful. I didn’t even need to take an aspirin or anything.”
For Michaels, the shorter treatment course was particularly appealing because she had a vacation planned she didn’t want to miss. “I’m glad I had that option,” she said. “The treatments only took a few minutes. I just went in first thing each morning, did the treatment, and went on to work.”
Michaels knows breast cancer treatments have come a long way. Her mother is a breast cancer survivor, and her mother’s sister was diagnosed at a young age. “At that time, treatments were was very disfiguring,” Michaels said. “My aunt had a horrible course of radiation and it seems very primitive, especially compared to what we know now. I’m so thankful we’ve come this far.”
“For some patients, the longer-term treatment may be better,” said Dr. Jessica Snider, Mercy oncologist and hematologist. “But what’s great about today’s cancer treatments is we’re able to individualize each plan. Sometimes less is more and we can target the therapy to get an excellent outcome with fewer complications.”
That’s definitely been the case for Michaels, who says she doesn’t even worry about her cancer coming back. One thing she wants every woman to know, though, is that part of the key to her relatively easy treatment was early detection. “I would preach from the hills and tell women to go get their mammograms,” she said. “Don’t wait to find out there’s a problem until the consequences are dire. Get it taken care of quickly.”
To help women get that important screening, Mercy has teamed with the Breast Cancer Foundation of the Ozarks to provide free screenings during October for uninsured women over the age of 40.
Mercy Springfield Communities is comprised of Mercy Hospital Springfield, an 866-bed referral center; an orthopedic hospital; a rehab hospital; a children’s hospital; four regional hospitals in Lebanon, Aurora, Cassville, and Mountain View, Missouri; and Mercy Clinic, a physician clinic with nearly 700 doctors and locations throughout the region. It is part of Mercy, which services millions annually, and was named one of the top five large U.S. health systems in 2018, 2017 and 2016 by IBM Watson Health. Mercy includes more than 40 acute care and specialty (heart, children’s, orthopedic and rehab) hospitals, 800 physician practices and outpatient facilities, 44,000 co-workers and 2,100 Mercy Clinic physicians in Arkansas, Kansas, Missouri and Oklahoma.
Mercy also has clinics, outpatient services and outreach ministries in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas. In addition, Mercy's IT division, Mercy Technology Services, supply chain organization, ROi, and Mercy Virtual commercially serve providers and patients in more than 20 states coast to coast.