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Duke Turns Up The Heat To Shrink Cancerous Breast Tumors

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DURHAM, N.C. — A medical breakthrough at Duke holds a lot of promise for women with advanced breast cancer.

Teresa Sartin never thought she would have breast cancer at the age of 32.

"I thought I was too young to have breast cancer," she said. "[It was]very scary. I had a one year old son at home."

Sartin traveled from New Bern to the Duke Comprehensive Cancer Center in Durham for treatment.

Because her tumors were too large for surgery, Sartin was referred to Dr. Kimberly Blackwell.

"Patients who have tumors that are so big, their doctors have said 'you're not eligible for surgery at this point,'" Blackwell said.

"Inflammatory" and "locally advanced" tumors often resist traditional treatments. Most patients do not survive past five years.

Blackwell is testing a new type of treatment for women with these types of tumors.

In the study, researchers wrap the chemotherapy in liposomal fat and inject it into the body. Then women lie on a special table where the breast is surrounded by water.

Radio frequency energy heats the breast tissue to 104 degrees, which melts the fat and unleashes the chemotherapy.

In a study involving 21 women, Blackwell found this method sends 20 times more chemotherapy directly to the tumor.

"The other benefit is we keep the chemotherapy from going where we don't want it to go, including normal healthy tissue," she said.

More importantly, all of the women in the study were eligible for surgery.

"That, in itself, we were very happy about," Blackwell said.

Some women only needed a lumpectomy, but because of the size of her tumor, Sartin had a mastectomy in July.

"I was considered a cancer survivor at that date," she said.

Sartin continues to travel to Duke for regular checkups. She is convinced that the treatment gave her the chance to watch her son grow up.

Blackwell hopes that in the next five years she will be able to deliver 100 times more chemotherapy to breast tumors.


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