Traditional radiation uses X-rays for treatment. Brachytherapy is the use of radioactive sources, such as a tiny seed, that produce radiation. Unlike X-rays, which enter one part of your body and exit out the opposite side, radiation produced during brachytherapy only travels short distances. In fact, “brachy” means “short”. These radioactive sources are placed near the tumor, on the tumor, or in a tumor cavity, for targeted radiation just to the area that needs it, while given minimal to no radiation to surrounding normal tissue that does not need radiation. SOMC Cancer Center is pleased to be able to offer brachytherapy as a service to our patients, and is the only center in the immediate area offering this treatment. Some uses of brachytherapy are below:
Skin cancer is primarily treated with surgery. If surgery will result in a deformity or a patient refuses surgery, brachytherapy can be used with excellent results. For this treatment, a brachytherapy skin applicator is placed on top of the skin cancer, and brachytherapy treatment is given. The treatment takes ~10 minutes for 8 days and you are done.
Brachytherapy can be used to treat female cancers, including cancers of the cervix, uterus, and vagina. Surgery, chemotherapy, and/or traditional X-ray radiation can also be a component of your treatment. For this treatment, brachytherapy devices are carefully placed near the areas to be treated, and brachytherapy treatment is given. The treatment takes ~10-15 minutes, usually requiring 3-5 treatments.
Traditional radiation treats the whole breast after a lumpectomy for breast cancer to reduce the risk of cancer coming back. This event where cancer comes back is called a recurrence. If cancer unfortunately recurs, it almost always comes back in the same area it started. Some patients have a low risk of recurrence outside the lumpectomy area so targeted radiation to the area where the cancer started is all that is needed. This “partial breast radiation” reduces normal tissue that receives radiation, such as uninvolved breast tissue, lung, and heart. SOMC Cancer Center uses the SAVI device for breast brachytherapy. Visit http://www.savisisters.com/ for more information.
Q: I have heard that you have to be hospitalized for brachytherapy treatment. Is that correct?
- For LDR (low dose rate) brachytherapy, you often have to stay in the hospital for several days until your treatment is finished. SOMC Cancer Center offers the newer HDR (high dose rate) brachytherapy, where you can come in to the center on your own as an outpatient, and go home following your treatment. This is more convenient for patients.
Q: Since treatment is given using radioactive sources, am I radioactive?
- With LDR brachytherapy, you are radioactive and can expose other people to radiation, which is why hospitalization is often required. With HDR brachytherapy at the SOMC Cancer Center, radioactivity is only present during the 10-15 minutes of treatment. After your treatment is complete, there is no radioactivity present and you can go home and resume your normal routine.
Who do you call if you have questions?
Call the SOMC Cancer Center at (740) 356-7490 or toll free 1-888-722-8787, or e-mail us if you have questions.