Bankruptcy Idles High-Tech Cancer Treatment

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A state-of-the-art radiation therapy machine for use against early stage breast cancer – one of only three in the state – has apparently been idled by the bankruptcy of the local surgical center that operates it.

Renaissance Surgical Arts of Newport Harbor, which filed for bankruptcy reorganization on July 11, has operated the Zeiss Intrabeam System for IntraOperative RadioTherapy (IORT) since it was delivered to the center in February.

The machine works by applying an intense, concentrated dose of radiation to the tumor via a node that is surgically inserted in the breast. It is a single office procedure that can replace radiation therapy – which typically takes six weeks – or more extensive surgery.

“We did several successful cases,” said Dr. Alice Police, a well known local breast cancer specialist and the surgeon who went through special training in order to operate the equipment.

But “it’s not possible to do an IORT case there currently,” Police said.

According to Dr. Police, the radiation oncologist and physicist she had worked with – and who are required to be present during procedures with the equipment – weren’t being paid and decided to leave.

“There is no access to it,” Police said.

But Stephanie Goddard, a representative from Renaissance surgical center, said that’s not the case.

“As far as we’re concerned the machine is here and prepped and ready to go,” Goddard said.

In fact, the Independent’s inquiry was the first Goddard had heard of this, she said.

Dr. Police has been bringing one to three cases to the center on average, Goddard said. The door is open to have her bring in more cases, she added.

Patient Carolyn Bivens said she was diagnosed with breast cancer not long after moving to Newport Beach earlier this year. She had several tests done and she was apparently a very good candidate for the IORT form of treatment, she said.

Bivens said that after Renaissance filed bankruptcy she was unable to use the IORT, and had to undergo a more extensive therapy, including at least one surgery.

The bankruptcy court allows the center to continue business as usual, including keeping its equipment. But without a properly trained and credentialed surgeon, physicist and a radiation oncologist, the machine can’t be used.

But Goddard insists there are many interested in using the machine at Renaissance.

“We have lots of qualified, credentialed surgeons who are interested in the IORT,” Goddard said.

There also are disposable supplies the machine requires, and Police said Zeiss stopped providing those supplies to Renaissance because payment had not been received. Goddard disputed this accusation as well, saying that the Renaissance center received a letter from Zeiss confirming that they are able to buy supplies from the company.

“We are in a reorganization process, but it has not affected our operations at all,” Goddard said.

Police said she is working to bring another Zeiss machine to Newport Beach, perhaps by next week.

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