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Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that can be used to treat lung cancer. This therapy works to shrink tumors and kill cancer cells through the use of ionizing radiation, a type of energy. This therapy involves taking radioactive material and placing it directly next to or inside the tumor. Also referred to as internal radiation therapy, brachytherapy allows the doctor to administer a higher dose of radiation to treat a smaller area in less time than external radiation allows. Understanding the possible lung cancer brachytherapy side effects will help all patients better prepare for the possibility of experiencing them.
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Brachytherapy for lung cancer involves delivering the radiation from within the patient's body. A bronchoscope, a small tube, is carefully inserted into the windpipe through the patient's mouth or nose. A catheter, a thin tube, is then carefully inserted through the bronchoscope and then passed into the patient's lung. Through the catheter, the radiation is then delivered to the patient's lung. The radiation will be left in place for a few minutes. The doctor will then remove the radiation.
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This condition is characterized by the esophagus becoming inflamed. If this occurs, patients may experience heartburn, especially when lying down or after a heavy meal. If heartburn at night is bad enough, the patient may lose sleep and have difficulty falling and staying asleep. This side effect may also cause chest pain which may be mistaken for a heart attack.
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Pulmonary Fibrosis and Pneumonitis
Five to 15 percent of all patients who receive brachytherapy may develop pneumonitis to some degree, or lung inflammation. The symptoms of this condition may not occur up until six months after the patient receives treatment. These may include fevers, chest fullness, and coughing, and in severe cases, chest pain, respiratory difficulties, and death.
As a result of this condition, there is a risk of developing pulmonary fibrosis as the body tries to repair inflammation damage. Scarring may cause shortness of breath, compromise lung function, and other respiratory issues.
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Throat Side Effects
Lung cancer brachytherapy side effects may include side effects that affect the throat. These may include pain when swallowing, difficulty swallowing, sore throat, and a dry, sticky cough.
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Acute side effects may occur shortly after treatment. These may include localized discomfort, bruising, bleeding, discharge, and swelling within the implanted region. These side effects typically go away within a few days after treatment is completed.
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Other Possible Side Effects
Patients may experience other side effects. These may include sore skin, fever, skin irritation and fatigue. The fatigue may last for a short period after receiving treatment. Hair loss may also occur, though, this is typically temporary.
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The Wonder World Center for Cancer Care. (2005). Radiation Therapy for Lung Cancer. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from The Wonder World Center for Cancer Care: http://www.thecentersforcancercare.com/WWCCC/treatment/disease/lung_cancer.htm
MayoClinic.com. (2009). Brachytherapy. Retrieved on December 22, 2010 from MayoClinic.com: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/brachytherapy/MY00323