Kimberly K. was the first breast cancer patient to complete treatment at Provision CARES Proton Therapy center in Knoxville, Tennessee.
Kimberly is an energetic woman with a fast-paced job managing a restaurant. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville helped keep her on her feet through treatment.
With a grandmother and two aunts diagnosed with breast cancer, Kim started yearly mammograms early. At age 39, her mammogram showed a possibility of breast cancer, and she went in for a biopsy December 18, 2013. She was out of town on December 20, when her doctor called with the news. She had breast cancer in the early stages, and six weeks of radiation, plus a lumpectomy or mastectomy was recommended.
Kim is a patient at Knoxville Comprehensive Breast Center, on the same campus as Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville at Dowell Springs. Her surgeon for the lumpectomy was Dr. George Webber. Each morning, a multi-disciplinary task force, including pathologists, oncologists, surgeons, radiation therapists and more, meet to review patients and recommend the best course of action for each patient.
“We all meet in order to provide input into a patient’s case so they can get the best possible recommendations,” said Webber.
Included on that task force is Dr. Allen Meek, board-certified radiation oncologist and Medical Director of Provision Medical Group. Because of the placement of Kim’s tumor, traditional radiation could have potentially affected her lungs, giving her a higher chance of developing lung cancer later in life.
“This is not an immediate effect,” said Dr. Meek. “What can happen is potential long-term radiation damage to the left side of the chest. This includes a higher incidence of heart disease and a higher incidence of lung cancer. Proton therapy is certainly advantageous for younger women. Many chemotherapy drugs can potentially affect the heart, also.”
The proton beam can be controlled to send as little radiation as possible to nearby organs. Dr. Meek said another concern with traditional therapies is the chance of radiation scattering to the opposite breast.
“The benefit in my view is that we get the same benefit for the breast, and we reduce by a considerable margin the damage to the heart and lung,” said Dr. Webber. “The less we irradiate the internal organs, the better it is for the patient, period.”
“People need to know that side effects from protons are similar to traditional radiation: sunburn-like irritation at the site, fatigue, sore throat,” said Dr. Meek. “But most of our patients can keep working right through that. They have noticed some fatigue, but bounce back quicker.”
Kim started treatment at Provision in early 2014, soon after the center opened.
“It was amazing. I had minimal side effects and was able to keep the same work schedule,” she said.
Kim is the first breast cancer patient to complete treatment at the Provision CARES Proton Therapy Knoxville. “Everybody here was so nice,” she said. “They are very caring and wonderful people. I would suggest this 1,000 times over traditional radiation. “I got very lucky. It could have been way worse.”