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Margaret Economos has a busy life, with a demanding full-time job and a love of life that propelled her through a variety of different careers and adventures. In her current position, 160 elderly residents of a rehabilitation facility rely on her for two meals every day.
Last year Economos, a Lakeville, Massachusetts resident, was planning a cruise to Bermuda with her husband when she received unwelcome news. An abnormal mammogram led to the diagnosis of breast cancer and a momentary halt to the daily routine and travel plans. In July 2007, Economos received the diagnosis of Stage I breast cancer, a difficult diagnosis for any woman. But Economos immediately brought her spirited personality to bear. She thought, "I don't have time for this!"
She underwent a lumpectomy in August and then discussed the subsequent radiation treatment with her physician, who thought she might be an ideal candidate for a new radiation treatment, Axxent electronic brachytherapy. Her physician referred her to David Wazer, MD, chief of radiation oncology at Rhode Island Hospital.
Unlike most radiation treatments that normally take seven to eight weeks and involve whole breast radiation with some degree of radiation scatter, electronic brachytherapy uses a targeted, limited exposure and takes only five days. Economos was both eager to get on with her life, and confident that a leading-edge treatment would be the best course for her.
Rhode Island Hospital was among the first of only ten centers across the country to offer the new Axxent electronic brachytherapy, which uses a miniaturized X-ray source that is inserted into the tumor site. It can be turned on and off as appropriate to deliver localized, targeted radiation treatment, resulting in less exposure to radiation, fewer side effects, and better outcomes.
Economos says that when it came to a decision between seven to eight weeks of radiation therapy and five days of brachytherapy, she knew what was right for her. The decision to opt for electronic brachytherapy made her the first woman in the region and the tenth in the country to receive this latest treatment for women with early stage breast cancer.
Economos was treated by Brigid O'Connor, MD, a radiation oncologist at Rhode Island Hospital. O'Connor says, "We are so pleased to offer this treatment to women in New England. We know that 80 percent of breast cancer recurrences occur in the same quadrant of the breast. So if we can target the treatment to that same area, we can hopefully prevent a recurrence through a quicker, safer means. An especially appealing factor about this treatment is that unlike traditional radiation therapy, we can be in the room with the patient, which provides a sense of comfort."
Economos agrees that she appreciated the presence of her medical team while she was undergoing treatment. After completing the five days of treatment, Economos said, "This was a piece of cake and I had no pain. It was a blip in my life." She reports that she needed no pain medication at all, and her only side effect was a swelling at the site that decreased rapidly. She felt so good that she and her husband took that trip to Bermuda a week after she completed her treatment. Renewed after a wonderful trip, she was right back at work, caring for those who need her.
Economos was so determined not to let her diagnosis disrupt her life and she had such confidence in her physicians and the new treatment, that she did not even tell her extended family members about it. Her aunts and uncles learned about her experience when they saw her on television news.
She's sharing her story because, she says, "I want women who are facing early stage breast cancer to know that they have options. I'm so grateful to Dr. O'Connor and the staff at Rhode Island Hospital who provided such wonderful treatment."