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Interstitial Brachytherapy for Breast Cancer

written by: Vikas Vij • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 12/17/2010

It is important to consider the option of interstitial breast brachytherapy in case of breast cancer treatment. This is a relatively safer and more conservative procedure with optimal results to prevent the recurrence of cancer in the affected area.

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    Interstitial Brachytherapy: A Conservative Treatment for Breast Cancer

    Interstitial breast brachytherapy is an innovative method for direct delivery of radiation into the tumor. The radiation is focused on the breast tissue from the inside of the breast. This ensures that the surrounding healthy breast tissue is not exposed to radiation, and maximum exposure can be achieved in the affected area. The treatment involves placement of an ultra thin needle or catheter into the cancerous breast tissue. Radioactive pellets are then introduced into the needle during the treatment process. Unlike external beam radiation therapy, this procedure is more precise and dynamic and results in minimal side effects.

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    Advantages of Interstitial Breast Brachytherapy

    Interstitial brachytherapy is a conservative procedure that aims to achieve optimal results with minimum damage to healthy tissue. It uses high precision technology to achieve its goal. The advantage here is that due to minimal unintended radiation exposure, the shape of the breast remains unchanged after the treatment. Another key advantage that appeals to most patients is that the entire treatment process can be completed within a period of five days in most cases. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional external beam radiation procedure that may have to be conducted over a period of about two months.

    Interstitial brachytherapy, which is also known by the name of implant radiation therapy or interstitial multi-catheter brachytherapy, also helps to treat a larger affected area of the breast. The procedure involves placement of several catheters in the tumor cavity area in a carefully planned manner. The quantum of radiation required is also pre-determined by the operating doctor. When all factors are in place, the treatment can be administered with very high precision with the help of digital imaging and computer technology. Another benefit of this procedure is that it may also be performed on patients who have previously undergone radiation therapy for problems such as Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

    The treatment is fairly safe because radiation seeds are removed from the tumor area during the gaps between treatment sessions. The effectiveness of this treatment is virtually the same as that of external beam radiation therapy, which exposes the entire breast to radiation, in an attempt to prevent the recurrence of breast cancer. The aggregate dosage of radiation is also quite similar in both types of treatment. The only difference is that in case of interstitial therapy, the dosage is more concentrated in the affected area.

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    Risks and Side Effects

    One of the conditions in this treatment is that usually only such patients are eligible for it who have already undergone lumpectomy to treat the early stages of breast cancer, or are planning to undergo it. Recurrence of the tumor is a possibility even after intense exposure to radiation in the affected area. There may be other complications or adverse impact on the cosmetic appearance of the breast region in some cases. Pain and swelling in the breasts is a common side effect, but these symptoms go away with time. Ruddy blotches in the breast skin may emerge in exceptional cases because of the dilation of blood vessels after radiation.