(Inside Science TV) -- One in eight women born in the U.S. today will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Each year, more than 40,000 Americans will die from the disease.
But thanks to technology and innovation, treatment for breast cancer has improved over the past decade and more lives have been saved than ever before.
An experimental approach to treat breast cancer developed at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville combines surgery and radiation therapy in one appointment, instead of multiple appointments, over the course of six weeks.
"We can bring all of this technology together that we use in other situations and offer it in a single episode of care for patients," said Tim Showalter, a radiation oncologist for the University of Virginia Health System.
At the time of surgery to remove a tumor, a customized high dose of radiation is given – since tumors come in all different shapes and sizes, doctors target the radiation to a particular shape to match the area where the tumor was once located.
The entire procedure is done using a CT scanner that moves over a patient to provide imaging in real-time.
"We can also, without moving the patient, get CT imaging and use a CAT scan to guide our radiation plan and confirm we're in the right place," said Showalter.
The benefit of this precise treatment method can spare other tissues from unneeded and harmful radiation exposure.
"What we can do … is actually keep the radiation dose away from the ribs, and away from the skin which makes the radiation safe," he said.
Next, the treatment approach will undergo a larger clinical trial to test the effectiveness and compare the method to other radiation therapies.
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Tim Showalter, University of Virginia School of Medicine