Brachytherapy is an internal radiotherapy cancer treatment approach that attacks tumors by placing a radioactive source within (intracavitary) or very near (interstitial) the affected tissue. The purpose of using brachytherapy is to deliver to the tumor a powerful, localized dose of radiation that can be higher than what can be delivered with external beam radiotherapy, or EBRT. When compared to other forms of treatment brachytherapy frequently has a shorter treatment period, sometimes can be delivered on an outpatient basis, and allows for precision application of very high doses of radiation. Brachytherapy can treat a wide variety of cancers, including those of the prostate, breast, esophagus, gallbladder, cervix, anus/rectum, extremities, and sarcomas. The patient typically receives the total dose in a series of 2-10 treatment sessions, also known as fractions. Radiation oncologists may use high dose rate (HDR), low dose rate (LDR), and pterygium-specific forms of brachytherapy. HDR involves radioactive seeds precisely positioned in the body for as little as a few minutes to a half hour. It's often an outpatient procedure. LDR is an inpatient procedure to implant radioactive cesium seeds, either for a short time or permanently. Brachytherapy can also be used to treat pterygium, an eye condition.
UAB Radiation Oncology offers a wide range of advanced treatment techniques in radiation therapy including triggered imaging radiosurgery, Gamma Knife surgery, medical dosimetry, Three-Dimensional Conformal Radiation Therapy, Brachytherapy, External Beam Radiation Therapy, Image-Guided Radiotherapy, Intensity Modulated Radiation Therapy, radioisotope therapy, Stereotactic body radiation therapy, Total Body Irradiation, and Total Skin Irradiation.
In keeping with our position as a leading academic medical center, UAB’s research is at the forefront of medicine, providing our patients with the latest and most innovative medical treatment and technology. Our physicians utilize state-of-the-art technology that can precisely target tumors while sparing healthy tissue.
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Proton International at UAB is Alabama’s first and only proton therapy center. Rather than traditional radiation, the center uses protons to reduce the dose to the healthy surrounding tissue and nearby organs, which leads to fewer side effects, better long-term outcomes, and improved quality of life in many patients.
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- Brachytherapy Technology
- Advantages of Brachytherapy
- Brachytherapy frequently has a shorter treatment period than other forms of treatment.
- Brachytherapy results in fewer or more mild side effects (discomfort near application site) than other forms of treatment.
- Brachytherapy can in some cases be delivered on an outpatient basis.
- Brachytherapy allows for precision application of very high doses of radiation.
- Pterygium-specific Brachytherapy
- LDR Brachytherapy
- HDR Brachytherapy
- Your Radiation Therapy Visit
Brachytherapy is implemented using the Varian VariSource HDR. This machine uses a relatively intense source of radiation (typically 10 Curie source made of Iridium 192) delivered through temporarily placed applicators.
The source is usually attached to (or embedded in) the end of a wire or cable. The wire drives catheters into applicators that have previously been placed in the patient. The source dwells in a preplanned position for a preset time before stepping along the catheter. This process repeats to create the required dose distribution. By varying the position and dwell time of the radiation source, the dose is neatly sculpted to conform to the shape of the target. The patient typically receives the total dose in a series of 2-10 treatment sessions, also known as fractions.
Advantages of Brachtherapy
Brachytherapy has several distinct advantages when compared to other forms of treatment.
Brachytherapy can treat a wide variety of cancers, including those of the prostate, breast, esophagus, gallbladder, cervix, anus/rectum, extremities, and sarcomas.
A pterygium is a thickening of conjunctiva onto the cornea on one or both sides of the eye. The growth can slowly progress until it seriously impacts vision. A pterygium can be removed by surgery, but it often grows back during the healing process. Using a brachytherapy form of radiation treatments to the affected region of the eye after surgery can prevent the membrane growths from recurring.
The procedure involves up to three treatments, all occurring within a two-week span after your surgery. The radiation is delivered only to the surface of the eye and the dose to the lens of the eye is very low. The procedure is painless. After the procedure, you'll wear an eye patch for about an hour to protect the eye from dust.
With HDR, a catheter or an applicator is precisely positioned in the body, and then small (3mm-long) radioactive iridium seeds are placed inside the device. These radioactive seeds are then applied for as little as just a few minutes to a half hour at most. This places radiation inside or very near the area to be treated. HDR allows radiation doses that are equivalent to those delivered via EBRT in just a few outpatient procedures. It is often done on an outpatient basis, and is appropriate for a number of treatment sites, including gynecological cancers. HDR can be the only therapy used in a patient's treatment or it can be used in conjunction with EBRT and other treatment therapies.
Your Radiation Therapy Visit
The patient's visit begins with a consultation with a physician specialist from our team of experts who will determine if the patient's condition is suitable for radiation treatment and therapy. During the consultation, the specialist will explain in detail the therapeutic procedure and answer any questions for the patient.
Once the consultation is complete, the patient proceeds to simulation, which is the process of creating a specific road map to treat the patient's cancer. If necessary, a custom immobilization device will be designed to ensure that the patient remains still during treatment and that the radiation beam hits the precise target in the body. During the simulation, a computed tomography (CT) is performed to identify the exact size, shape, and position of the cancer target in the body. From this information, a team of specialists generates treatment delivery parameters to treat the cancer.
Next, the team of physicians, physicists, dosimetrists, and therapists develop a patient specific treatment plan that will guide the radiation delivery devices to treat the precise cancer target in the body. Each of step leads to the development of the optimal treatment plan to remove the patient's cancer.