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Intraoperative Radiation Therapy

Intraoperative radiation therapy (IORT) is a one-time, concentrated radiation treatment during a lumpectomy (surgery to remove a breast tumor). It is used to treat early-stage breast cancer and lower the risk of recurrence by targeting the area of the breast most at risk for recurrence, while sparing healthy tissue and organs.

When used in the right women — such as those with small tumors that have not spread to the lymph nodes — IORT is as effective as treating the whole breast with external radiation. If you receive IORT, it is often the only radiation you will need.

Am I a good candidate for IORT?

IORT is not right for everyone. The success of the treatment depends on whether or not you are a good candidate for it. Your breast cancer team at Rush will discuss if IORT is right for you.

You may be a good candidate if you meet the following criteria:

  • You are older than 60
  • You have early-stage breast cancer, with a small tumor
  • You do not have a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation
  • The cancer has not spread to the lymph nodes

How IORT works

Working closely with your breast surgeon, your radiation oncologist will deliver the IORT during your lumpectomy — adding about 30 minutes to your surgery time. Here is how the treatment works:

  1. After your surgeon removes the tumor, the radiation oncologist places a temporary saline-filled balloon in the area where the tumor was. The balloon has a small X-ray source that works to deliver the radiation.
  2. The radiation oncologist, working with a medical physicist, administers the radiation, which takes about 10 minutes.
  3. Your surgeon removes the balloon and completes the surgery.

Comparing IORT and standard radiation

Most women with breast cancer require some type of radiation therapy. Your care team at Rush will discuss the best option for your individual needs.

Treatment IORT Standard radiation
Type of breast cancer

Invasive ductal carcinoma: Starts in the milk ducts and can spread to the surrounding breast tissue and beyond

Ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS): Starts in the milk ducts and has not spread to any surrounding tissue

Multiple types of breast cancer
Size of tumor Smaller than 3 centimeters All tumor sizes and multicentric cancers (more than one tumor, often in different sections of the breast)
Area treated Small area of the breast tissue around the tumor Entire breast and sometimes lymph nodes
When radiation is delivered In one dose during lumpectomy Five days a week for up to six weeks

Benefits of IORT

  • Reduced treatment time: While your recovery time after lumpectomy with IORT is the same length as lumpectomy without it, IORT significantly reduces the time you spend receiving radiation.
  • Minimal side effects: IORT has fewer side effects than standard radiation. The most common side effects of standard radiation are skin irritation and fatigue. Fatigue is not associated with IORT, and there are minimal skin changes.
  • Targeted treatment: IORT delivers a precise, concentrated dose of radiation to the tumor site — where there is the highest risk for cancer recurrence — while also sparing healthy tissue and nearby organs.


Why choose Rush for IORT

  • Currently, Rush is one of the few medical centers in the Midwest to provide IORT to women with breast cancer.
  • You will have a dedicated care team comprised of your breast surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist who work with each other and you to determine if IORT is right for you.
  • Rush is part of a national clinical trial studying IORT, which means you could have the benefit of being a part of cutting-edge research.
  • Many women with breast cancer receive care through the Coleman Foundation Comprehensive Breast Cancer Clinic at Rush. At the clinic, you’ll meet with a multidisciplinary team of experts to determine a personalized plan of care for you.
  • At Rush, you have access to the Cancer Integrative Medicine Program, which offers complementary therapies, such as acupuncture, massage and yoga to help ease the mental and physical stress that accompanies breast cancer treatment.
  • The Rush University Cancer Center received the 2014 Outstanding Achievement Award from the American College of Surgeons’ Commission on Cancer. Rush has received this triennial award all four times since the award was created in 2004. The prestigious award recognizes programs that excel in providing quality cancer care.