When Kathleen Brown, of Sebastian, was diagnosed with stage 3 ductal carcinoma breast cancer earlier this year, she knew her treatment would involve radiation.

Brown, 47, office coordinator for the Indian River Medical Center radiology department, had seen many women come through her office in the same situation.

But that did not make the situation any less scary for Brown, who had been monitoring her health religiously for years. She had no family history of breast cancer but had tumors removed from her right breast in 2016, making her vigilance even more important.

The BRCA gene.

“I was being followed,” said Brown, who underwent genetic testing to see if she carried the BRCA gene because she has a daughter, Jessica Lynne, 28.  Brown’s test showed she did not carry the BRCA gene.

After she consulted with radiologist Dr. James Pagnini, oncologist Dr. Patrick Judson and dermatologist Dr. Lilia Correa, Brown underwent a lumpectomy on her left breast and was scheduled for six weeks of radiation at the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center, where Pagnini is medical director for radiation oncology.

As a preliminary step, Brown received a tattoo at the original spot of her tumor, allowing the radiation therapist to pinpoint radiation at the treatment area. Having a clear target improves results and spares healthy tissue.

“At the very beginning, they choose the area they have to radiate,” Brown said. “It has to be the precise place every time. First, they mark you with a marker, and then you get the tattoo.”

The patient's position also is essential to the radiation process. For Brown, it meant a treatment table set at an angle, allowing the machine to travel around her. The entire process takes about seven minutes.

“I did very well,” Brown said. “Aside from the normal burning and some skin irritation, the treatment was OK. I was very healthy to begin with, and I tried to stay positive, so I think that helped.”

Kathleen Brown, 47, relied on the opinion of Dr. James Pagnini medical director for radiation oncology at the Scully-Welsh Cancer Center in Vero Beach — and other doctors after she was diagnosed earlier this year with stage 3 ductal carcinoma breast cancer. Brown underwent radiation treatment with the center's TrueBeam radiotherapy device, that delivers high doses of radiation with precise accuracy.

The process of delivering radiation to breast-cancer patients has improved over the years, with new techniques evolving frequently, Pagnini said. Scully-Welsh has a TrueBeam radiotherapy device that accurately delivers high doses of radiation. 

Regarding patients who have undergone lumpectomies, Pagnini said, studies have shown radiation reduces the chance of recurrence, and new techniques reduce potential heart damage.