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CHRISTUS St. Michael is on the front lines of treating breast cancer in this region. The hospital offers a variety of treatment options to help women overcome the disease while staying close to home.

"We have a true beam accelerator. It's the only one in the whole area and it's a way to give radiation and minimize the side effects," said Dr. Hesham Hazin, hemotologist oncologist and medical director of St. Michael's W. Temple Webber Cancer Center. "We just acquired it last year. It's a huge benefit for patients to have that option here.

The cancer center also offers chemotherapy and biotherapy for those with cancer that has a genetic component.

"We're doing treatments for people who have locally advanced disease and can't get chemotherapy," Hazin said.

Immunotherapy stimulates a person's immune system to attack cancer cells by supplying it with components like man-made proteins.

"It was just FDA approved. Right now it's offered for all different types of cancer but it's been kind of slow getting approved for breast cancer, which is kind of strange because it's the most diagnosed female malignancy," Hazin said.

The side effects of immunotherapy are less severe than for chemotherapy. It can cause diarrhea, inflammation of the lungs, lead to endocrine disorders, adrenal insufficiency and pancreatitis, but not the fatigue, hair loss or more severe side effects commonly caused by chemo.

Treatments in breast cancer are continuously changing and becoming more individualized. Things that are taken into account include the hormone status of the cancer cells, how quickly it grows and how fast cells are replicating and a patient's genetic history.

"It's individualized. We're talking about personalized predicative medicine. That's what we're practicing now and it's totally different than what we did five or 10 years ago," Hazin said.

The changes have improved cancer care.

"We're seeing more robust response rates. It's making a huge difference in overall survival. Attacking what's driving the cancer to grow is one of the biggest breakthroughs we've had in breast cancer," Hazin said.

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