Say No to CA: Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy_procedure

The world outside is dark and quiet, and while all else is sleeping, Carlo is up and awake burning midnight candles. It has been his dream since he was still a child to become a nurse someday and now that he is just a few steps away from his dream, he is doing everything he can to be the best that he can be. A few more steps then he will finally be a Registered Nurse.

Exams are still nowhere in sight yet Carlo has made it a point to study every night, even if it’s just a few pages. Today they discussed about cancer and because of his curiosity and eagerness to learn, he decided to read more on the topic. He was just going through the concepts they have discussed when he came about one unfamiliar term, Brachytherapy.

“Brachy what? I have never heard of this one before. Let me check this out,” he says as he delves himself in the world of cancer and its related concepts.

Brachytherapy: An Overview

Brachytherapy refers to an advanced cancer treatment that involves placing radioactive material inside your body. Here, radioactive seeds or sources are placed in or near the tumor itself, resulting to a high radiation dose to the tumor as it reduces the radiation exposure in the surrounding healthy tissues. It is sometimes called internal radiation.

The term “brachy” comes from a Greek word meaning short distance. Therefore, brachytherapy is radiation therapy given at a short distance, which is localized, precise, and high-tech.

This internal radiation is also used to treat many types of cancer, namely: Prostate cancer, Breast cancer, Lung cancer, Esophageal cancer, Gynecologic cancers, Anal/Rectal tumors, Sarcomas, Head and neck cancers. It may be used alone or in combination with other cancer treatments such as after surgery in order to destroy any cancer cells that may remain. Also, it may be used along with external beam radiation and chemotherapy.

Advantages

  1. It allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body as compared with the conventional form of radiation therapy (external beam radiation) which only projects radiation from a machine outside of your body. Radiation sources are placed directly at the site of cancer tumor.
  2. The irradiation only affects a very localised area around the radiation sources.
  3. It may also cause fewer side effects than does external beam radiation, and the overall treatment time is usually shorter with brachytherapy.

How it works

Prior to brachytherapy, certain tests and scans may be performed as ordered by the doctor, it may include Xrays and CT scans.

For this procedure, thin catheters are first placed in the tumor. Then, they are connected to an HDR afterloader, which contains a single highly radioactive iridium pellet at the end of a wire. The pellet is pushed into each of the catheters one by one under computer control. This computer is the one responsible for controlling how long the pellet stays in each catheter or what we can call the dwell time, and where along the catheter it should pause to release its radiation called dwell positions.

With the use of a few well-placed catheters in the tumor, HDR brachytherapy can give a very accurate treatment which may only take a few minutes. The catheters may then be removed after a series of treatments, and there will be no radioactive seeds left in the body (temporary brachytherapy).

Since the procedure affects a specific area, the side effect may be tenderness and swelling in the treatment area.

Safety Precautions

Cancer treatments often involve questions about safety and precautions from significant others. For temporary brachytherapy wherein no radioactive seeds are left in the body, there is no radiation risk to friends or family from being in close proximity with them.

While for permanent brachytherapy wherein low dose radioactive sources (seeds) are left in the body after the treatment, the radiation levels are very low and decrease over time. The irradiation here only affects the tissues within a few millimeters of the radioactive sources such as the tumor being treated.

Those patients who have undergone brachytherapy may be advised not to hold or be close to children and pregnant women for a short period of time after the treatment.

Sources:

Liane Clores, RN MAN

Currently an Intensive Care Unit nurse, pursuing a degree in Master of Arts in Nursing Major in Nursing Service Administration. Has been a contributor of Student Nurses Quarterly, Vox Populi, The Hillside Echo and the Voice of Nightingale publications. Other experience include: Medical-Surgical, Pediatric, Obstetric, Emergency and Recovery Room Nursing.

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