Brachytherapy is a treatment option that deploys the use of radiation therapy internally for the treatment of various cancers such as prostate, uterus, skin, breast, cervical, eye, mouth, arms and legs, brain, etc. In this technique, radioactive source is placed inside or next to the tumorous mass, and radiation emitted from the radioactive substance kills the tumor cells. Being target-specific, brachytherapy offers the advantage of targeting only the cancer cells and spares the healthy cells.
Internal radiation therapy
Various cancers such as prostate, cervical, uterine, etc.
Brachytherapy is usually performed under anesthesia or sedation to block the sensation and pain. Your radiation oncologist will place a hollow applicator in or around the tumor which is later loaded with radioactive source. The radioactive source could be placed permanently or temporarily depending on the location and stage of cancer as follows.
In this technique, high-dose radiations from the implant are transmitted to the tumor for approximately 10 to 20 minutes, before the implant is removed. The frequency of radiation exposure is undermined-once or twice a day or once a week.
Permanent implants (seed implantation)
In this technique, seed-sized implants are placed that transmit radiation for 24 hours until the radiation intensity fades away.
- Before undergoing brachytherapy, your doctor might order certain blood tests such as complete blood count, bleeding time, clotting time, etc. to assess your suitability to undergo brachytherapy. In addition, you might undergo certain imaging tests to identify the location of cancer. In certain cases, you might undergo a pre-anesthesia check-up.
- Avoid eating anything at least 6-8 hours before for a complication-free procedure. Inform your doctor about the medication you take and you could be advised to discontinue certain medications. Reach the hospital around 2 to 4 hours before the procedure for planning and observation.
Surgical or non-invasive depending on cancer location and stage
Adhering to the follow-up schedule is crucial to achieving a complication-free recovery. Take appropriate rest and avoid exerting yourself. You should avoid lifting heavy weights and excessive bending for a few weeks while you recover and return to your normal activities. Ask for help from friends, colleagues, or family members, as required. If you have permanent implants placed, avoid close contact with kids or pregnant women for few days. Additionally, avoid exercises such as running, cycling, or weight lifting that could stress your body for a few additional weeks.
Being a target-specific therapy, brachytherapy is a safer technique than external radiation therapy to treat various cancers. The risks and side effects of brachytherapy depend on the location and stage of cancer and the site of the implant. The following side effects are could be associated with brachytherapy:
- Alopecia (Hair Loss)
- Constipation or Diarrhea
- Mouth sores
- Change in bowel movement
- Skin irritation
- Erectile dysfunction
- Difficult urination
- Vaginal dryness
- Dyspnea (shortness of breath)
- Localized bleeding and pain.
Following the brachytherapy, you will be transferred to the recovery room after a few hours to a couple of days, depending upon the location of therapy and type of implant. Following stabilization of your vitals, you will be shifted to a ward or discharged on the same day. The recovery plan will be discussed with you by your doctor.
The majority of the side effects associated with brachytherapy alleviate following the removal of implants; however, pain or soreness at the implant site can bother you for a few days or weeks. You can return to your normal routine and perform your daily activities as usual within a few weeks. In addition, avoid overexerting yourself and strenuous activities such as running, weight lifting, etc. You should take your medications as prescribed by your doctor. Seek immediate medical attention, if you experience excessive pain or vomiting or any other ill effects.