Tiny seeds bring hope

Mitch Robinson, Staff Writer, Greenwood Commonwealth

Debbie Suggs had no history of breast cancer in her family. She said she had no idea what to expect when she was suddenly referred for a biopsy following a routine yearly mammogram.

Her biopsy indicated that she had cancer.

Dr. Roderick Givens, an oncologist at Greenwood Leflore Hospital, explained to Suggs a treatment called “microseed,” which he was being trained in Canada and Europe to perform.

Givens also told her she could receive the treatment on the first day it would be available in Green-wood.

She did not hesitate. “I was excited,” she recalled.

Suggs had 94 radioactive seeds injected in one treatment into her cancerous breast in March. She returned to work the next day without any significant side effects.

“I was a little slow because I slept so well as a result of the anesthesia,” she laughed.

She is cancer-free today. A CT scan in May showed no abnormalities, and she says her life is the same as before. There is nothing to indicate she ever had treatment for breast cancer.

“Live fully, love it and go back to being like every other day,” Givens tells his patients.

Greenwood Leflore Hospital is one of a handful of sites in the United States offering the treatment for breast cancer; and it is the only one in the Southeast Givens said.

Other major facilities do not offer microseed because the training is costly, he explained.

“Our patients are hard-working people. This benefits them uniquely because of lifestyles here,” he said. We brought microseed to Greenwood to do what’s right for folks.”

Givens said that he has “seen it all,” including many difficult situations, during his 22 years as an oncologist. “I feel a sense of pride that the hospital saw a benefit to microseed treatment,” he said.

Starting up microseed therapy and maintaining it cost the Greenwood hospital virtually nothing because of innovative partnerships with providers, Givens said.

The procedure has a 95 percent to 98 percent cure rate. But he explained microseed is not a cure for all forms of breast cancer nor will it be effective for all women.

Microseed treatment is an option fur low-grade Stage 1 and 2 cancers that are also small — about the size of a grape. And the microseed needle is limited to approximately 10 inches and probably cannot reach a tumor area in substantially buxom women.

Pre-emptive breast reductions for women with a family history of breast cancer will not create the option of microseeding because reductions “change the architecture of the breast” instead of making it optimal for the treatmeat, said Givens.

He advised that women continue screening for breast cancer that is normally advised with yearly mammograms and regular self-testing for lumps.

The seeds themselves are the size of a grain of rice and made of palladium. After 60 days, the radiation is exhausted, but they are not removed from the breast.

Suggs said, “It never hurt.” She would never have known the seeds had been implanted except for some reddening of the flesh in the first few days.

Givens said a catchphrase for the procedure is “plant a seed and kill a weed.” But he also said microseeding is just one element of a range of tools an oncologist will use to tailor a treatment regimen.

Microseeding has been used to treat prostate cancer for approximately two decades. Retooling the procedure for breast cancer occurred in Europe and Canada in the last 12 years. Microseeding breast cancer was first used in the United States about eight years ago.

Suggs said that shortly after she was diagnosed with cancer, one of her friends was diagnosed with an aggressive Stage 3 breast cancer that had entered the woman’s lymph nodes under her arms.

Witnessing the treatments her friend is enduring in her own fight, Suggs feels “blessed beyond measure” for her microseeding.