Cathy Jones definitely had breast cancer on her radar – her mom is a four-year survivor, and she had her own scare three years ago when her mammogram revealed a calcification requiring a biopsy. Though the biopsy was negative, she had been having mammograms every six months until April 2009, when she was given the all-clear for annual breast imaging exams.
But in April 2010, she got the dreaded call. “They saw something a little abnormal,” explained Jones. “I could wait six months and have another mammogram, or go ahead and have a biopsy. In light of Mamma’s situation, I opted for a biopsy. And thank goodness I did – it was cancer.”
Breast cancer is the most common cancer diagnosis in women, accounting for an estimated 27 percent of cancer cases and 15 percent of cancer deaths in women in 2009. In 2010, more than 207,000 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
The WellStar Cancer Network: Complete Care
In Paulding County, residents are fortunate to have ready access to world-class cancer care through the WellStar Cancer Network, which provides advanced, multidisciplinary care addressing the full continuum of needs, including prevention, early detection, treatment and survivorship support. Each year, nearly 3,000 cancer patients benefit from WellStar’s compassionate, individualized approach.
Jones is one of those patients. “Everyone at WellStar has been wonderful,” said Jones, a Hiram resident. From imaging and surgery through radiation, Jones had all her procedures and treatments at WellStar or a facility affiliated with the System. And the opening of WellStar Paulding Radiation Oncology Center in October 2010 was a huge boon for Jones, who underwent 30 radiation treatments.
“It made life so much easier,” she said. “Thanks to the new Center, my three-hour daily trek to and from WellStar Kennestone was no longer necessary. My last two-and-a-half weeks of treatment at Paulding took only 30 minutes a day, roundtrip, including the time of the treatment and stopping to get a bite to eat.” Michael Andrews, M.D., WellStar’s chief Cancer Network officer, is proud of the System’s many distinctions which benefit the community. “In the area of breast cancer, we have many strengths; among them, dedicated breast surgeons, state-of-the-art imaging and active clinical trials,” he explained. “Our patients have access to many drugs before they’re released.”
In 2009, WellStar became the first accredited breast center in Georgia to be granted a three-year/full accreditation designation by the National Accreditation Program for Breast Centers. Andrews said WellStar has vast experience in performing accelerated partial breast irradiations (APBIs) – in fact, the System has performed more than 1,200, much more than any healthcare provider in the Atlanta area. This procedure reduces radiation treatment time from five weeks to five days; APBI is for women who have a cancerous lump surgically removed and need radiation therapy to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
Although many patients have received APBI, Jones was not a candidate for the procedure. Her surgeon, Philip Israel, M.D., with The Breast Center in Marietta, recommended a mastectomy. “My cancer was caught very early, thanks to the mammogram,” said Jones, 50. “And, at first, Dr. Israel thought I would probably only need a lumpectomy. But God was in all this – Dr. Israel wanted to do an MRI. And he found five additional, tiny tumors in my left breast. So I needed a mastectomy; and I chose to have both breasts removed. I didn’t want to go through this again.”
During the mastectomy in June 2010 at WellStar Kennestone Hospital, it was discovered Jones’s lymph nodes were negative for cancer – so she did not need traditional chemotherapy. But her margins were positive, meaning the cancer extended beyond the edge of the removed tissue. So her oncologist, Gena Volas-Redd, M.D., of Georgia Cancer Specialists, recommended radiation and a five-year course of Arimidex therapy.
But only after Dr. Volas-Redd ordered a genomic assay test called Oncotype DX, which revealed Jones’s breast cancer was 95 percent estrogen-receptor positive – one of the most treatable breast cancers. Arimidex is an oral medication that decreases the amount of estrogen the body makes.
“Thankfully, Arimidex doesn’t have the major side effects of chemotherapy like hair loss and nausea,” said Jones. “Only fatigue and weight loss – and hey, I needed to lose a few pounds!”
The Oncotype test, most useful for those with Stage I or II tumors that are small, respond to estrogen and have not spread to the lymph nodes, also predicts a woman’s chance of recurrence. “It grades you from zero to 50,” explained Jones, “with 50 representing the highest risk for recurrence. My score came in at a 16, with only a 10 percent chance of recurrence in 10 years; that’s classified as low risk, and confirms that I wouldn’t benefit much
But Jones would benefit from radiation since her margins were not clean. And the opening of the WellStar Paulding Radiation Oncology Center in October 2010 was a major benefit for Jones – and for all of Paulding County and the surrounding communities.
“Research shows that radiation therapy is most effective when there are no interruptions,” said Justin Hart, Ph.D., M.D., radiation oncologist at WellStar Paulding Radiation Oncology Center. “And before the Center opened, we usually had 10 to 20 patients making the commute from their homes in Paulding County to WellStar Kennestone for therapy. They are usually going five days a week, and sometimes it’s hard for people to get transportation, so they end up missing two days a week. It would be frustrating for us, because we know the outcome is not likely to be as effective when there are interruptions. The new center makes it better for everyone.”
The Center, at 148 Bill Carruth Parkway in the Paulding Physicians Center building, provides radiation therapy using image-guided radiation with the assistance of a CT simulator. “Our Paulding patients are thrilled they can get the same treatment they previously had to travel to WellStar Kennestone to receive – but now it’s right in their neighborhood,” said Dr. Hart.
“It’s state-of-the-art – on a par with the equipment I was trained on at M.D. Anderson in Houston.” Dr. Hart likened a visit to the Center to an audience with the Wizard of Oz. “You meet the doctor, but there’s a whole team – an Army – behind the curtain making sure every treatment is administered precisely and correctly,” he said.
The treatment team includes a radiation oncologist(six physicians share duties at the Center), a radiation physicist (who Dr. Hart describes as the physician/machine go between), a dosimetrist (responsible for radiation dose distributions and calculations), a radiation therapist and a radiation oncology nurse.
“WellStar Paulding Oncology Center made a big, big difference to my quality of life,” said Jones, who lives only four miles from the Center. Jones, who finished her radiation therapy in November 2010 and is undergoing the last phases of reconstructive surgery at WellStar Kennestone, said thanks to WellStar, “everything I needed to fight this cancer was available. I feel very blessed."