Intraoperative Radiation Therapy for Breast Cancer

Reviewed by the physicians of Columbia’s Surgical Breast Team, December 2023

This article explains how Intraoperative Radiation Therapy (IORT) is administered, its potential benefits, and eligibility.

How It Works  |  Benefits  |  Who Is Eligible  |  Next Steps

Key Info

  • IORT involves a single dose of radiation that is administered immediately after a lumpectomy.
  • Compared with traditional radiation therapy, IORT may offer benefits to patients with early stage breast cancer.

How Intraoperative Radiation Therapy Works

A lumpectomy is a common procedure for patients with early stage breast cancer. But because it only removes a portion of the breast, radiation therapy is often administered afterward in order to eliminate any microscopic remnants of cancer.

Unlike conventional radiation therapy, which uses an external beam of radiation that is delivered to the entire breast, IORT is delivered internally during surgery. This allows surgeons to more precisely target the cancerous area with a stronger dose of radiation, while also avoiding nearby healthy tissue.

Benefits of Intraoperative Radiation Therapy

Although studies have shown that the effectiveness of IORT is similar to conventional radiation therapy, IORT offers several potential benefits.

More Convenient

Conventional radiation therapy requires that patients make daily trips to the hospital for up to 6 weeks. This can be challenging and may make it less likely for patients to complete treatment. In contrast, IORT can be completed in a single session.

Fewer Side Effects

Because conventional radiation therapy affects the entire breast, it can expose healthy tissue to radiation. However, IORT only targets the cancerous area. This means it uses less radiation and produces fewer side effects.

Less Expensive

Because IORT is a quick, one-time procedure, it is much less expensive than conventional radiation therapy.

Who Is Eligible for Intraoperative Radiation Therapy?

IORT is currently available for most patients with early stage breast cancer who have tumors 2 centimeters or less in diameter and who are eligible for a lumpectomy.

Next Steps

If you want to explore the use of intraoperative radiation therapy in your care, we’re here for you. Call us now at (212) 305-9676 or fill out our online appointment request form.