June 17, 2024

The Precision of Healing: Exploring the World of Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy used to treat many kinds of cancers. Unlike external beam radiation therapy that aims radiation from a machine outside the body, brachytherapy, also called internal radiation therapy, places radioactive material directly inside or next to the cancer being treated. This proximity allows brachytherapy to deliver very high doses of localized radiation to cancer cells while sparing surrounding healthy tissue from radiation exposure.

What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy, from the Greek and Latin words meaning “short distance”, is a radiation therapy procedure in which a sealed radioactive source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment. The radioactive source or “seeds” are placed directly into the tumor or tissue affected by cancer via thin catheters, tubes or applicators. These containment devices keep the radiation localized very precisely to the treatment area without exposing other tissues to radiation. Common radioactive materials used in Brachytherapy ┬áinclude iodine-125 and palladium-103 for prostate cancer, cesium-137 for breast cancer and iridium-192 for other cancers.

Types of Brachytherapy

There are two main types of brachytherapy – high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy and low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy. HDR brachytherapy involves placing a more powerful radioactive source inside or next to the tumor for a brief period ranging from minutes to a few hours. LDR brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds, pellets or capsules inside or next to the tumor area permanently or for a specified period of time ranging from days to weeks. LDR brachytherapy is commonly used to treat prostate cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer and other cancers.

Benefits of Brachytherapy

Some key benefits of brachytherapy over external beam radiation include:

– Higher Radiation Dose: Brachytherapy allows delivery of a very high dose of radiation directly to the tumor site while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissues. This makes it very effective in tumor control.

– Precision Targeting: The radioactive implants are placed precisely at the tumor site ensuring all cancerous cells receive adequate radiation dose.

– Shorter Treatment Time: Treatment sessions are shorter, ranging from minutes to a few hours for HDR and days to weeks for LDR brachytherapy compared to weeks of daily external beam sessions.

– Cost Effectiveness: Brachytherapy treatments are usually completed in fewer sessions making it a more cost-effective treatment option.

– Fewer Side Effects: There is less damage to surrounding healthy tissues due to localization of radiation to the tumor site alone resulting in fewer short-term and long-term side effects.

Common Cancers Treated with Brachytherapy

Some of the most common cancers treated with brachytherapy include:

Prostate Cancer: Brachytherapy is a standard treatment option, either alone or combined with external beam radiation for localized prostate cancer. LDR or HDR brachytherapy delivers a very effective dose to the prostate gland.

Breast Cancer: Brachytherapy is often used as an alternative or addition to lumpectomy for early-stage breast cancer involving placement of a small radiation source in the breast cavity after tumor removal.

Cervical Cancer: For early stage disease, brachytherapy involves placement of radioactive sources in the vagina or cervix using an applicator device. It can be used alone or along with external beam radiation.

Skin Cancer: Brachytherapy is well-suited for non-melanoma skin cancers using topical application or implanted radiation sources on the skin surface.

Head & Neck Cancers: Brachytherapy catheters may be placed in tumors of the oral cavity, larynx, esophagus or other areas for localized treatment.

Brachytherapy Procedure

The brachytherapy procedure is usually performed as an outpatient procedure under local anesthesia or sedation depending on the placement site. For HDR brachytherapy, thin catheters are inserted into or near the tumor under image guidance. The radioactive source is then moved via afterloader machinery through each catheter for a set time. For LDR brachytherapy, radioactive seeds, rods or catheters are placed directly into the tumor site and left there for radiation delivery over subsequent days. Placement techniques may involve superficial, interstitial or intracavitary methods depending on cancer type. Patients are kept isolated in hospital during LDR source indwelling and discharged once the sources are removed. Brachytherapy may be combined with external beam radiation or surgery for optimal cancer treatment.

With targeted delivery of localized radiation doses, brachytherapy offers an effective cancer treatment option with survival rates comparable to surgery but fewer side effects for many localized cancers. When used appropriately in select patients, brachytherapy provides high tumor control rates and excellent quality of life outcomes. As a specialized treatment requiring image-guided placement of radioactive sources, brachytherapy is best performed at comprehensive cancer centers by radiation oncologists experienced in this technique.

1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
2. We have leveraged AI tools to mine information and compile it