An advanced cancer treatment using radiotherapy

By Vishal Ingole, Medical Research EditorLast modified: October 12, 2011


Brachytherapy, an advanced cancer treatment, uses Radiation therapy (ionizing radiation) to treat cancer. As a part of this procedure, an upraised dose of radiation is used to treat a relatively smaller area in a much shorter time than was possible by external radiation treatment. While undergoing this form of treatment, the patient is advised to stay in the hospital for a few days as special safety measures are taken to monitor the radioactive material which is inserted into his body.

Brachytherapy Defined

Brachytherapy is a form of internal radiotherapy in which a solid radioactive material is infused inside or close to a tumor in order to treat it. This is a procedure through which high doses of radiotherapy are given directly to the tumor, particularly to treat cancers of the prostate glands, womb, cervix, head or neck.

Types Of Brachytherapy

There are two types of Brachytherapy. In temporary Brachytherapy, the radioactive material is inserted for a specific period of time and is taken out later whereas in permanent Brachytherapy, seeds or pellets are left in or near the tumor permanently. The implant eventually reduces and finishes off after a few weeks or months. This procedure is also called seed implantation. Iodine, cesium, palladium and iridium are some of the radiation sources which might be used.

Brachytherapy Procedures

In temporary Brachytherapy method, the catheters and the delivery devices are first placed in the tumor. MRI, Ultrasound, fluoroscopy etc. are used to position the radiation sources. The catheters are connected to an after loader which contains an iridium pellet at the end. The pellet is pushed into each catheter one at a time. The computer controls the staying time of each pellet in the catheter. A series of treatments later, the catheters are withdrawn and there are no pellets left in the body.

In permanent Brachytherapy, encapsulated pellets are inserted into the tumor using a specialized device. Treatments vary depending on the rate i.e. they can either below dose rate (LDR) or high dose-rate (HDR).

In HDR, a specified dose of radiation is administered to the tumor in a short burst through a remote after loading unit. The treatment can last anywhere from a few minutes to hours.

During LDR Brachytherapy, the patient is kept in the hospital so that the delivery device can be placed in the body for a longer time. Some preparations need to be done before Brachytherapy can be done. These include the bowel preparation, blood tests, CT scan, MRI or Pre-treatment ultrasounds etc.

Precautions During Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy patients are strictly advised to avoid extended personal contact with small children and pregnant women for at least two months post treatment as they are most sensitive to radiations. it is also advised to use a condom during sexual intercourse after the implant.

Brachytherapy Risks And Side Effects

The radiation affects only a specific area, so the effects or risks are not too prominent. However, tenderness and swelling may be experienced for a few days. Since the prostate is close to the urethra, patients may get afflicted with certain urinary problems, in case Brachytherapy is used to treat prostate cancer. Some patients might require a catheter to urinate till the time the radiation remains active.

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