Breast Cancer Patient Helps Make Medical History in Minnesota

Woman with butterflies.

In 2014 Bonnie Harris was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer. After surgery to remove pre-cancerous tissue, she became one of the first patients in the state to be treated with the Varian TruBeam® machine, a new technology at the U of M that delivers precisely targeted radiation to cancerous areas. The technology allowed only Harris’s breast cancer to receive radiation, while protecting vital organs like her heart and lungs from unnecessary exposure.

In this therapy, a hole is cut in a radiation-blocking plate, in a shape and size that matches the target area. The plate is placed in the path of the radiation beam, which self-adjusts so that all the radiation is delivered through the hole, straight to the cancerous area and not to neighboring tissues and organs. Besides sparing healthy tissue, the treatments take considerably less time than conventional radiation therapy—a strong plus for Harris, who underwent daily treatments for six weeks. In September she celebrated the end of her treatment with a tradition in the radiation therapy center: She rang a ceremonial bell.

The University is among the first places in Minnesota to offer the technology, which exemplifies how cancer treatment is moving toward precise and individualized treatments for patients.