According to a recent article in the B.C. Medical Journal, the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North has allowed more women with breast cancer to choose breast-conserving surgery and radiation, as a treatment option.
The article, written by Prince George-based surgeon Michelle Sutter and radiation oncologist Allison Ye, makes the argument that patients have been choosing adjuvant radiation therapy in increasing numbers since the opening of the University Hospital of Northern B.C.-based centre. This treatment is often combined with breast-conserving surgery, which is an alternative to a mastectomy, a surgical process involving the complete removal of the breast.
According to the article, since the opening of the Cancer Centre, 633 breast cancer consultations have been completed by radiation oncologists in the north. Between 2011 and 2016, one of the authors of the article observed a 51 per cent decrease in the mastectomies she performed, as well as a 51 per cent increase in breast-conserving surgeries. The authors say this is evidence that the closer-to-home access to radiation has allowed patients and physicians to choose less invasive treatment options.
Ye said the access to adjuvant radiation, combined with breast-conserving surgery, has greatly improved the quality of life for many since 2012. The risk of complications is often lower, as is the time for recovery.
"As there is no survival difference between mastectomy alone versus breast conserving surgery (BCS) plus radiation, it would seem patients were being forced to make their decision based on their ability to travel to the Interior or Lower Mainland for radiation, instead of based on personal preference," Ye said in an e-mail to the Citizen.
"Now, the travel time is either eliminated for [Prince George] patients, or reduced (as we do still have patients that come from all over Northern Health, and even some from Interior Health)."
Prior to the opening of the B.C. Cancer Centre for the North, a Vancouver Sun article quoted doctors describing "horror stories" of patients making multiple visits to Prince George from other communities for visits.
The centre has allowed patients to reduce these visits dramatically.