Proton Therapy Patient Story

Breast Cancer Patient Chooses Proton Therapy for Precision, Protection

Breast cancer survivor Debbie Koss with Radiation Oncologist Dr. Sonali Rudra.

After a routine mammogram detected a lump in her right breast in 2009, Debbie Koss of Rockville, Md., considered herself lucky. The tumor was small and in its very early stages, treatable through a lumpectomy and radiation therapy alone.

Nevertheless, Debbie sought out her own specialist for follow-up and discovered medical oncologist Claudine Isaacs, MD, co-director of the Breast Cancer Program at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital. She saw her faithfully for an annual checkup and always got a clean bill of health.

So, in 2016—a full six years after her original cancer treatment ended— Debbie was shocked to learn that she had a new breast cancer in her lymph nodes, this time on the left side, close to her heart.

Eleni Tousimis, MD, chief of Breast Surgery, removed Debbie’s cancerous nodes and some surrounding healthy ones, as well. As part of Debbie’s treatment plan, she then underwent chemotherapy with Dr. Isaacs and radiation therapy with Sonali Rudra, MD, director of the Breast Cancer Radiation Oncology Program.

That was when Debbie first learned about proton therapy, a more advanced cancer-fighting radiation treatment than what she had undergone previously.

Debbie Koss, now cancer-free, was treated with proton therapy.

“My brother-in-law suggested I look into it,” she says. “And I was impressed by what I read about proton therapy’s precision and heightened ability to avoid surrounding healthy tissue. So, I asked Dr. Rudra point-blank: ‘If I were your mother, what would you recommend?’”

Dr. Rudra’s response sealed the deal.

“Patients like Debbie, with left-sided breast cancer and lymph node involvement, are among the breast cancer patients most likely to benefit from proton therapy,” she explains. “Debbie’s cancer was close to her heart, so traditional radiation therapy could have put her at higher risk of developing secondary heart or lung disease in the future. In her case, those odds were even higher since she had undergone radiation before.”

Convinced proton therapy was the right choice for her, Debbie asked Dr. Rudra to make the necessary arrangements. Soothed by the sounds of Frank Sinatra, Debbie sailed through every proton therapy session.

“Each treatment only lasted a few minutes,” says Debbie, now cancer-free. “And throughout it all, I was able to continue going to the gym and attend my spin classes. I have no doubts about my decision to go with proton therapy. I’ve recovered well.”