Brachytherapy is a new type of treatment that helps treat cancers and tumors found in various parts of the body like prostate cancer, skin, breast, cervix, and others. It is, in essence, a radiotherapy that involves the placement of a radioactive substance into the body part that has developed a tumor or cancer. Also known as the internal radiation therapy, this allows a doctor to place a large amount of radioactive substance in the body to cure the ailment in a short amount of time.
How does it work?
Brachytherapy is of two types namely temporary brachytherapy and permanent brachytherapy.
Temporary brachytherapy: It involves placing a highly radioactive substance inside a slender tube for a specified amount of time. This is later taken out. Since the placement is highly specific, hence there is no damage to the nearby healthy cells and tissues.
Permanent brachytherapy: It involves the implantation of a seed made of radioactive substance next to the tumor and is left there for several months. The radioactive substance shows its effects and in few months loses its radioactive property. These seeds are left in the patient’s body even after they have done their work. These have no side effects.
The radioactive substance placed in a capsule or a wire only allows the radiations to come out and kill the tissues and cells in the surrounding tumors but do not let the substance to get dissolved in the body fluids.
There are a few side effects associated with brachytherapy. Most of these depend on the location of the tumor and the type of brachytherapy used. These can be classified as the acute or long term.
- Acute- These are short-term side effects and can be treated within a few days or a week. These include swelling, bruising, bleeding, discharge from the implant region etc. Some people also feel weak for a small period of time. In the case of treatment for prostate or cervical cancer, urinary tract related symptoms such as painful urination or urine retention are also seen. Diarrhea, rectal bleeding, and constipation are also some side effects involved with brachytherapy. In the case of skin cancer treatment, the outer skin sheds around the area of an implant and heals within a week.
- Long Term- There are only a few people that have been seen to report long-term brachytherapy side effects. These are very mild in nature and do not affect the day-to-day life of a person. These include digestive problems, urinary problems, erectile dysfunction; all of these can be easily treated with medication. In the case of breast cancer treatment, some people develop scars on the treated areas. Sometimes the breast tissues swell and become tender due to the entry of fatty acids in the breasts.
Preparation for Brachytherapy
There are a few preparatory measures taken prior to brachytherapy that is advised by the doctor. Some of them include:
Also, the doctors will do a minor mapping of the area in which the implant has to be placed before starting the treatment. The other special instructions will be provided by the physician depending on the region where the tumor is present.
What to Expect after Brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy is a noninvasive treatment and does not require any amount of operative measures to be taken. Also, there are very little side effects associated with it. Hence, there will not be any noticeable changes after the treatment. The doctors will run a checkup to see the condition of the tumor and how much has it healed.
The follow-up visits are very important since they will be the ones deciding whether the treatment has worked or not. It is also important to determine whether the cancer is not spreading to the other places in the body.
Brachytherapy is the most effective cancer treatment since it targets the specific place and the cells. In most cases, the patients in the initial stages of their cancer get easily cured with brachytherapy. However, the people in the later stages of cancer need to combine brachytherapy with the other types of treatments to completely heal.
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