Brachytherapy, An Alternative to General Radiation

By Brandon Barney, MD

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy used to treat cancer. It allows doctors to deliver high doses of radiotherapy to small, specific areas of the body, compared to conventional radiotherapy that projects radiation from outside the body to larger treatment areas.

Brachytherapy is an alternative to general radiation

During high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, a radioactive source is placed in or next to the cancerous tumor for 30 minutes or less. The source gives off radioactivity that kills the cancer cells. Patients come in for multiple treatments and are usually done with treatment in one to two weeks.

The precision of HDR brachytherapy helps avoid the side effects that often occur with conventional radiation therapy or surgery. Some benefits of brachytherapy include a shorter overall treatment time and recovery period and fewer side effects. Brachytherapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other cancer treatments. At the Cancer Center at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center in Provo, HDR brachytherapy is used to treat prostate, breast, and gynecological cancers.

Prostate Cancer

HDR brachytherapy is an alternative to surgery for treating prostate cancer. It considerably lowers the likelihood of incontinence after treatment and is just as likely as surgery or conventional radiotherapy to cure the cancer. Often, two to three implants are used in treatment over the course of 2 to 4 weeks.

Breast Cancer

HDR brachytherapy can be used instead of conventional radiotherapy for the treatment of breast cancer. Brachytherapy treatment takes one week rather than four to six weeks for conventional radiotherapy. Often, patients can avoid the side effects of conventional radiotherapy, including fatigue and acute skin reaction.  

Gynecological Cancers

HDR brachytherapy can replace or supplement conventional radiotherapy in treating gynecological cancers like cervical and endometrial cancer. It has become an essential treatment for these cancers. In treating cervical cancer, the combination of conventional radiotherapy and brachytherapy is as effective as a hysterectomy (surgical removal of the uterus) for small cancers and is more effective than surgery for larger cancers.

If you are preparing for treatment for prostate, breast, or a gynecological cancer, consult with your doctor to determine if brachytherapy may be an option for you.