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Brachytherapy is a localized and precise advanced cancer treatment that involves surgically implanting tiny radioactive seeds (permanent or temporary) into a tumor, where they emit radiation for anywhere from just a few minutes to a full year. The therapy requires a single or limited number of sessions to place the radioactive sources and permits more patients to benefit from outpatient treatment while limiting side effects.
Guided by minimally invasive tools and three-dimensional monitors, radiation oncologists and surgeons inject the seeds - which contain either a low- or high-dose rate radioactive source - into the diseased treatment area. There are two forms of brachytherapy: low-dose rate and high-dose rate.
Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy involves the placement of approximately 100 radioactive seeds - each about the size of a grain of rice - into the tumor area while a patient is under general anesthesia. The implanted seeds, which remain in the treatment field either temporarily or permanently, emit radiation at a low-dose rate over several hours to several months. An alternative method to administering LDR brachytherapy is by utilizing a radioactive applicator instead of seeds. LDR brachytherapy is traditionally used to treat tumors in the following: brain, breast, eye and orbit, gynecologic system, head and neck, lung, prostate and spinal cord.
High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy utilizes a computer system to deliver high-dose radiation directly to the tumor for several minutes. This treatment is typically given as an outpatient over numerous days but can also be performed during surgery It is used to treat areas such as the cervix, esophagus, lung and uterus.
Included within HDR brachytherapy is the MammoSite® System, which administers radiation to the breast. This can be used for the treatment of primary or recurrent breast cancer in select patients.
Intraoperative radiation therapy is a unique technique that allows us to apply doses of radiation to a tumor during surgery. This approach provides direct visualization of the diseased area, ensuring maximum target and dose precision. A vicryl mesh technique has been pioneered at Allegheny Health for the treatment of lung and colorectal malignancies, as well as other cancers.