NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There’s a first-of-its-kind treatment option available for women with early stages of breast cancer.

It offers a way to deliver radiation treatments faster and more safely.

Women with early stage breast cancer can usually undergo a lumpectomy, but they also require radiation treatments to the area where the tumor used to be to prevent local recurrence.

It can take weeks, and can also cause heart and lung damage. Now, there’s a faster and safer way.

Joyce McCain’s breast cancer was picked up in a routine mammogram. Since her active lifestyle, she opted for a lumpectomy with radiation. Doctors soon explained the possible side effects for her heart.

“That gave me something else to start worrying about,” she said.

Since breasts lie directly over the heart and the lungs, they’re often in the path of radiation beams which can lead to heart damage and lung cancer decades later.

There’s now a new FDA-cleared device called the GammaPod that can deliver high doses of radiation to the breast while sparing vital organs. The patient lies face down, or prone, so that her breast is pulled down and away from the chest wall.

The real key is that the GammaPod delivers dozens of thin radiation beams from many angles that all converge on the area where the tumor was removed.

“It’s targeted on the lumpectomy cavity, plus that rim of tissue around it,” Dr. Elizabeth Nichols from the University of Maryland Medical Center said. “Essentially there’s innumerable paths that the radiation can take that all converge on the target area with a high dose, but through any given beam path there’s essentially a negligible amount of radiation.”

Not only does that spare the heart and the lungs, it also reduces the radiation that other normal tissue receives.

“We can actually deliver a little bit of a higher dose of radiation per day for a shorter time frame, and that can shorten treatment from a daily treatment, Monday through Friday for four weeks down to just days of one to five treatments,” Dr. Nichols said. “We’re seeing that fatigue is significantly less for women undergoing therapy and the skin reaction is also significantly improved.”

The¬†GammaPod is for women with early stage breast cancer after their lumpectomy, but Dr. Nichols is looking at a clinical trial for elderly women with early, non-aggressive cancers as a standalone treatment. Right now, it’s only available at the University of Maryland Medical Center where it was developed.

Several other sites will also be accepting patients soon.

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