radiation therapy, also called Brachytherapy, refers to methods
of radiation delivery in which radioactive material is implanted
directly into or near a tumor. Brachytherapy allows the doctor to
give a higher total dose of radiation in a shorter period of time
than is possible with external treatment. It concentrates the radiation
in the tumor and lessens damage to normal tissue near the cancer.
This can be the best way to treat certain types of cancer, and it
can also be an alternative to surgery. Sometimes brachytherapy is
done in conjunction with external radiation therapy, in which case
the brachytherapy delivers a “boost” (higher dose) to
help destroy the main mass of tumor cells.
The radioactive material is sealed in a metal seed
and placed directly into or near the cancer site. Interstitial brachytherapy
involves placing radiation seeds directly placed into the tumor
or tissue at risk using a needle applicator. Intracavitary brachytherapy
involves the use of special applicators or small tubes (catheters)
that are placed within body cavities that are near the tumor. These
devices are then ‘loaded’ with radioactive sources.
Types of Brachytherapy
High Dose Rate (HDR) brachytherapy is most commonly
an outpatient procedure where very effective high-dose radioactive
sources are removed after only a few minutes. The doctor places
a catheter in or near the tumor, and then directs the procedure
remotely from outside the treatment room. A computer sends a radioactive
source through the catheter to the treatment site. In some cases,
several treatments may be required.
Low Dose Rate (LDR) brachtherapy can be either temporary
or permanent. Advanced ROS offers permanent LDR brachtherapy, an
outpatient procedure where the radioactive sources are left in place
permanently. Because the seeds are emitting radioactivity, safety
precautions are necessary to reduce exposure to family members.
The seeds become less and less radioactive each day until the radiation
diminishes to an undetectable level.
How will I feel during the procedure?
You are not likely to feel pain or become ill during
treatments. If your implant is held in place by an applicator, the
treatment area may be sensitive for some time after treatment. If
anesthesia is needed to place the implant, you might feel drowsy
for a short time. Anesthesia is generally not required when the
implant is removed and most implants can be taken out immediately
after the treatment.
Will I become radioactive?
Even though the effects of radiation are powerful,
you will not become permanently radioactive. If a permanent implant
procedure is used, as with prostate seed brachytherapy, your body
may give off a small amount of radiation for a short time.
What are the benefits of brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy has been proven to be comparably effective
in the treatment of many kinds of cancer and patients often suffer
fewer side effects compared to when external radiation therapy or
surgery is used. The benefits vary depending on the patient and
the type of brachytherapy, although as a minimally invasive treatment
method, the benefits of avoiding surgery are universal. These include
a quicker recovery time, less time spent in the hospital, and a
reduced risk of postoperative infection.
The benefits of using brachytherapy in the treatment
of early stage prostate cancer are quite pronounced. This usually
involves an outpatient procedure for either LDR permanent seed implantation
or HDR brachytherapy to the prostate gland. Prostate brachytherapy
has been shown to have ten-year survival rates comparable to radical
prostatectomy surgery and has fewer side effects, including a much
lower incidence of impotence and incontinence.