A pioneering doctor in Kelowna, B.C., has been seeing great success with a new type of treatment for breast cancer and wants to see its use expanded.The B.C. Cancer Agency calls Dr. Juanita Crook a leading expert in the field of brachytherapy, a relatively new way of treating cancer where doctors implant tiny seeds of radioactive material into breast tissue at the site of the cancer.Crook has been using the therapy since 2012. She said it is less arduous for patients but yields outcomes that compare well with standard radiation treatment.”It works very well because it’s very conformal, it’s very focal,” Crook told Daybreak South host Chris Walker.”It’s very, very well received because the standard treatment involves being away from home for 3½ to five weeks. We have a very large catchment area in Kelowna. Some women can’t even go home for weekends.”Dr. Juanita Crook is a leading cancer expert in B.C. and also teaches at UBC’s Okanagan campus. (University of British Columbia Okanagan)Standard radiation treatment, she said, is when the entire breast is beamed with radiation externally.Brachytherapy, she explained, can be a more targeted, precise approach to treatment and she believes it can be expanded to other areas of the province.Data emergingBrachytherapy has been in use for treating prostate and gynecological cancers for about 20 years, Crook said, but its use in breast cancer was pioneered in Ontario about 15 years ago.There are limitations to brachytherapy, however. It is only appropriate for early stage, localized cancers not involving lymph nodes. The tumours that are appropriate have to be accessible either through a skin surface or a mucosal surface, she said.Crook believes the treatment should be more widely used. So far, in B.C., it is only offered in Kelowna regularly but has also been used in Victoria. She hopes the treatment can expand to Vancouver but says funding and training of doctors remain hurdles.The B.C. Cancer Agency says the data on brachytherapy’s efficacy is only now coming out.”B.C. Cancer is an evidence-based organization and continues to improve and evolve based upon evidence and best practices,” a spokesperson wrote in an email.The spokesperson said it’s hard to know how many breast cancer patients could benefit from brachytherapy. He added it could potentially reduce by one quarter the radiation currently used in treatment.Listen to the full interview:The B.C. Cancer Agency calls Dr. Juanita Crook a leading expert in the field of brachytherapy, a relatively new way of treating cancer where doctors implant tiny seeds of radioactive material, about the size of rice grains, into breast tissue at the site of the cancer. 5:16With files from CBC Radio One’s Daybreak South
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