February 23, 2024

Shining Light On Brachytherapy: A Comprehensive Overview

Cancer is one of the leading causes of death worldwide. While conventional treatments like chemotherapy, surgery and external beam radiation continue developing to fight cancer effectively, brachytherapy has emerged as a highly precise type of radiation therapy. Brachytherapy, also called internal radiation therapy, is an effective treatment option for certain types of cancers with minimal side effects.

What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy, from the Greek words “brachys” meaning short and “therapy” meaning treatment, involves placing radioactive sources inside or next to the Cancer tumor. Small radioactive seeds, capsules or catheters are placed directly inside the tumor or body cavity, allowing a high dose of radiation to be delivered right to the cancer site while minimizing damage to nearby healthy tissues. This focused, targeted delivery of radiation spares more of the surrounding normal tissues than conventional external beam radiation therapy.

Types of Brachytherapy

There are two main types of Brachytherapy – temporary and permanent. In temporary brachytherapy, also known as high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, a radiation oncologist places radioactive sources inside or near the tumor either through catheters or applicators for a short period of time ranging from minutes to a few hours. In permanent brachytherapy, also known as low-dose-rate (LDR) brachytherapy, tiny radioactive seeds are planted permanently inside or around the tumor region. The seeds release small doses of radiation continuously over several days or weeks to destroy cancer cells.

Common Cancer Sites Treated

Brachytherapy is used to treat various types of cancers affecting organs in the pelvic and chest regions where radioactive sources can be precisely placed inside or near the tumor. Some of the most common cancer sites treated with brachytherapy include prostate cancer, cervical cancer, breast cancer, skin cancer, head and neck cancers and gynecologic cancers of the ovaries, uterus and vagina. Brachytherapy may be used alone or in combination with other therapies like surgery, external beam radiation or chemotherapy based on the cancer type and stage.

Benefits of Brachytherapy

Some of the key benefits of brachytherapy over other radiation therapy methods include:

– Precise delivery of high doses of radiation directly to the tumor: Brachytherapy allows targeted delivery of a large radiation dose to the exact tumor location while minimizing exposure to nearby healthy tissues.

– Shorter treatment time: Temporary brachytherapy is usually completed in one or a few sessions over hours or days compared to weeks of daily external beam radiation.

– Lower risk of side effects: Focused radiation from inside minimizes radiation exposure to surrounding organs and tissues, resulting in fewer short-term and long-term side effects.

– May be used alone or with other therapies: Brachytherapy can often be used alone for early-stage cancers or combined with other treatments like surgery or external beam radiation.

– Outpatient procedure: Most brachytherapy treatments are done on an outpatient basis without hospitalization.

– Recovery and return to normal routine is faster.

Prostate Cancer Brachytherapy

Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancer sites treated with brachytherapy. In prostate brachytherapy, also called prostate seed implantation, radioactive iodine-125 or palladium-103 seeds are placed directly into the prostate gland through needles inserted using transrectal ultrasound guidance. Permanent implants allow low doses of radiation to be delivered continuously for weeks to kill cancer cells while minimizing harm to surrounding structures.

Prostate brachytherapy has shown excellent cancer control outcomes comparable to surgery with less urinary, bowel and erectile side effects. It is most suitable for early-stage prostate cancer confined to the prostate gland. Many men choose brachytherapy to preserve sexuality and quality of life. Follow up after prostate brachytherapy involves PSA blood tests and digital rectal exams every few months initially to monitor treatment response and recurrence.

Cervical Cancer Brachytherapy

For cervical cancer, brachytherapy involves placing a radioactive source such as iridium-192 directly into the cervix and top of the vagina using special applicators. It is commonly used along with external beam radiation and sometimes chemotherapy depending on the stage of cervical cancer. Brachytherapy provides an extra radiation boost to the tumor region while lessening doses to nearby organs like the bladder and rectum. It helps improve cure rates while reducing side effects for women with early to mid-stage cervical cancer.

With recent technical advances in applicator and implant designs, real-time imaging and treatment planning software, brachytherapy has become a highly precise cancer treatment option. When used appropriately based on tumor type and stage, it offers excellent cancer control outcomes and survival benefits comparable to other treatments like surgery or external beam radiation with fewer side effects on normal tissues and quality of life. Brachytherapy continues to evolve as an integral part of the multidisciplinary management of select cancers.

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