A form of radiation treatment that is also sometimes known as internal radiation therapy, brachytherapy can be used for the treatment of several different types of cancer, including mesothelioma. This is a highly-targeted form of radiation that allows the treatment of a small area for an extended period of time, and this technique causes less harm to surrounding tissue than external beam radiation, which uses a high-energy x-ray beam that is generated by a machine and is aimed at the tumor or a particular part of the body.
There are two types of brachytherapy. Either may be recommended as a first course of treatment, may be paired with chemotherapy, or might be used post-operatively.
- Temporary – Administered in low-dose or high-dose form, temporary brachytherapy involves the placement of radioactive material near the tumor. In this short-term brachytherapy, the material is left for a pre-determined time and then removed. The length of time will depend on the doctor’s goals and the dosage.
- Permanent – For this type of brachytherapy, radioactive seeds or pellets are implanted near the tumor and are left there permanently. The “seeds” are approximately the size of a grain of rice, and though they eventually stop emitting radiation after several weeks or months (depending on dosage), they are left in place. Once radioactivity has stopped, the seeds are harmless to the patient and those around him.
Brachytherapy is usually done as an outpatient procedure, just like the external beam form of radiation, and the procedure takes about an hour to complete. In some cases, the patient may be required to stay overnight. The patient is usually given some form of anesthesia to numb parts of the body and light sedation in order to prompt relaxation. The seeds are implanted through a needle, applicator, or catheter and CT scans or other imaging devices are generally used to help doctors determine the correct placement of the seeds.
Few side effects occur with brachytherapy though the patient may experience pain, bruising, and swelling at the treatment site. Most side effects last for only a few days and are mild in comparison to external beam radiation. For example, patients do not experience the burns that can be typical of other forms of radiation. However, patients are advised to keep their distance from small children and pregnant women because they can indeed emit a small amount of radiation from their body and these groups of individuals are more susceptible to radiation’s negative effects.
- American Brachytherapy Society (ABS) www.americanbrachytherapy.org
Last modified: December 24, 2010.