Partial-Breast Irradiation

An Alternative to Whole-Breast Irradiation

Following a lumpectomy, a short course of radiation is often an acceptable treatment plan for many women. Traditionally, whole-breast irradiation uses a radiation source outside of the body to treat the cancer site and usually involves daily treatments of six days per week over a six- to seven-week period. With partial-breast irradiation techniques, radiation is delivered directly to the breast tissue surrounding the lumpectomy cavity rather than to the entire breast.

Using partial-breast irradiation maximizes the dose delivered to the area most at risk of breast-cancer recurrence while minimizing radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. Partial-breast irradiation treatments can be completed in about five days, rather than six or seven weeks, allowing patients to return more quickly to their day-to-day lives.

Partial-breast irradiation treatment options available at Swedish include breast brachytherapy methods (MammoSite® Brachytherapy, Contura™ Multi-Lumen Balloon and Axxent™ Electronic Brachytherapy) and stereotactic radiosurgery (CyberKnife).

Breast Brachytherapy

Breast brachytherapy involves the temporary placement of a concentrated radiation source directly in or around the cancer site. The direct placement helps spare surrounding healthy tissue while the high dose can mean a shorter treatment time compared to more traditional radiation therapies.

MammoSite™ Brachytherapy

Balloon Brachytherapy Reduces Treatment Time

The common form of breast brachytherapy following a lumpectomy is balloon brachytherapy, which consists of implanting a small balloon-like device into the lumpectomy cavity several days after surgery. The Swedish Cancer Institute was the first in the region to offer MammoSite™ Brachytherapy, a balloon brachytherapy method.

A balloon-tipped catheter is inserted where the tumor was removed and a radioactive "seed" is then placed in the inflated balloon to target the area of the breast where tumors will most likely recur. It delivers radiation internally to the tissue surrounding the original tumor. This maximizes the dose delivered to the area most at risk of breast-cancer recurrence. At the same time, it minimizes radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue.

The benefit of balloon-catheter brachytherapy is the reduced treatment time required — typically five days instead of six or seven weeks

Contura® Multi-Lumen Balloon

New Hope for Patients Excluded From Balloon Brachytherapy Due to Irregular Lumpectomy Shape


A new approach for balloon brachytherapy, Contura® Multi-Lumen Balloon (MLB), was developed for patients who had been excluded from balloon therapy because of the location of the lesion related to their breast size. Contura is a small balloon-based device implanted into the breast to treat the tissue surrounding the cavity left after lumpectomy surgery. After being inserted, the balloon is inflated and filled with saline, and a radiation source is placed in the lumpectomy cavity.

Previous balloon brachytherapy used a single channel to place the radiation seed. The Contura MLB uses five separate “lumens” or channels inside the balloon to place the radiation. The additional channels help the physician to shape or "contour" the radiation dose away from the skin or chest wall. It also employs a vacuum to help the balloon fit closely within the often irregularly shaped lumpectomy cavity, so the targeted areas receive the prescribed therapeutic dose.

Watch a Contura video

Axxent™ Electronic Brachytherapy

No Need to Isolate Patients During Treatment


Electronic brachytherapy delivers more intense radiation directly to the cancer site while minimizing radiation exposure to nearby normal tissue. This is done by combining the benefits of external beam radiation therapy with traditional brachytherapy.

Unlike other radiation therapy options that involve radioactive isotopes, with Axxent™ Electronic Brachytherapy the x-ray source can be turned on and off at will, giving radiation oncologists the flexibility to deliver treatments in virtually any clinical setting rather than in heavily shielded environments. This eliminates the need to isolate patients during treatment.

Swedish was involved in helping develop this method of delivering electronic, x-ray-based radiation therapy for the treatment of early stage breast cancer, and was the first in the Northwest to offer the system to patients.

Stereotactic Radiosurgery (CyberKnife)


The Swedish Radiosurgery Center has the most current CyberKnife technology that uses a high-energy X-ray machine on a robotic arm to precisely deliver radiation beams that destroy cancer cells and stop growth while avoiding damage to healthy tissue. CyberKnife treatments can be completed in about five days. Patients usually wear street clothes during their treatments and return to their normal activities when their treatments have been completed.

Learn more about CyberKnife treatment for breast cancer