Brachytherapy works by accurately directing radiation to the cancerous tumor from inside the body. This custom approach reduces the risk of any unnecessary damage to the surrounding healthy tissue and organs that are close to the tumor, therefore reducing potential side effects.
Brachytherapy is commonly used as an effective treatment for cervical, prostate, breast, and skin cancers. Brachytherapy can be used to treat cancer on its own or in combination with other treatment methods, such as surgery, external beam radiation therapy, or chemotherapy. The specific number of treatments will depend on a several factors, such as the location, shape, and size of the tumor, and individual patient preferences.
How it Works
Brachytherapy uses a radiation source that's put directly inside the body in or near the tumor. It utilizes a radiation source that’s usually sealed in a small holder called an implant. The implant is placed very close to or inside the tumor, so that it harms as few normal cells as possible. Brachytherapy allows a higher dose of radiation in a smaller area than might be possible with external beam radiation treatment.
- Brachytherapy is very effective in treating cancer, as the radiation is delivered with a high level of accuracy. It has a minimal risk of side effects, because of the targeted and exact nature of delivering the radiation from inside the body.
- It is usually minimally invasive and doesn't involve extensive surgery.
- Brachytherapy can usually be done on an outpatient basis, avoiding the need for an overnight stay in the hospital in many circumstances.
- It usually involves shorter treatment times (typically from one to five days) and has short recovery times (typically two to five days). Most people can usually return to everyday activities very quickly.
- Brachytherapy can allow patients to get back to their everyday lives sooner and with less disruption.
Brachytherapy allows the physician to more precisely control the dose delivery and more accurately limit the dose to the surrounding normal tissue. Brachytherapy primarily uses two different techniques:
Low Dose Rate (LDR)
Low Dose Rate uses a lower strength radioactive source and is associated with longer treatment times (for the one time treatment). The most commonly used LDR treatment site is the prostate, which involves permanent placement of tiny radioactive seeds in tissue in the prostate. Throughout the next several weeks to months, the seeds give off radiation to the immediate surrounding area, killing the cancer cells. Over time, the radioactive material degrades, and the seeds that remain are harmless.
High Dose Rate (HDR)
High Dose Rate uses a higher strength radioactive source contained within an afterloader device. The afterloader delivers the source for a brief period of time to catheters, needles, or other appliances placed in the tumor site. Per treatment, HDR is much shorter procedure (minutes vs. days) than LDR but it does require multiple treatments. Increasingly more common, HDR techniques have replaced LDR techniques for most body sites.
With any radiotherapy technique, the goal is the same: to conform the dose to the size and shape of the target while limiting side effects by sparing the surrounding healthy anatomy. In brachytherapy, radiation falls off very rapidly from the target area easily accomplishing this objective.
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