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Brachytherapy: Seeding the Future

Brachytherapy: Seeding the Future

Sarasota Memorial Health Care System welcomes new cancer-fighting technique to Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute

Traditional radiation therapy fights cancer from the outside, targeting radiation beams at tumor sites and expending great energy to ensure accuracy. And these techniques have advanced by leaps and bounds over the years, saving countless lives.

But brachytherapy dares to ask, what if we used radiation therapy to fight cancer from the inside?

What Is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that fights cancer by placing the radioactive material inside the body, either in the tumor or immediately nearby, as opposed to using lasers to fire radiation at the cancer from outside the body. Once placed inside the body, these radioactive “seeds” emit low levels of radiation—not enough to harm the patient, but enough to disrupt and destroy cancerous tumors nearby.

Understandably, brachytherapy is also sometimes called “internal radiation.”

And while it sounds wild at first glance (ok, it is wild), this allows doctors to deliver cancer-destroying radiation directly to the tumor site, and allows them to safely use higher doses of radiation to take out the cancer quickly.

Brachytherapy At Sarasota Memorial

Early brachytherapy techniques used low-dose radiation and would require inserting radioactive seeds in the body for an extended period of time, often requiring patients to stay isolated and in the hospital for days while the radiation did its work.

But not today.Kunal Saigal, MD

At Sarasota Memorial’s Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute, radiation oncologists Matthew Biagioli, MD, and Kunal Saigal, MD, are already using High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy to treat their patients, citing positive outcomes and calling the technique a “critical component” of primary radiation therapy.

More advanced than previous methods, this latest form of brachytherapy uses higher doses of radiation, but only for very brief periods at a time. So instead of patients reporting to the hospital for an extended stay with radioactive seeds inside them, they simply go to the doctor’s office for an outpatient appointment, where seeds are placed via minimally invasive robotic-assisted surgery for a short duration and then removed. The patient can then go home and go about their day as normal.

“We use computerized 3D imaging and a robotic device to precisely place the radioactive source within the tumor or at-risk tissue and deliver radiation therapy,” says Dr. Saigal. “The highly targeted, highly controlled process allows us to individualize treatment plans based on each patient’s unique tumor and anatomy.”

And the results prove the technique’s effectiveness, particularly in treating cervical, uterine and prostate cancers.

“In cervical cancer, omission of brachytherapy results in poorer outcomes,” says Dr. Biagioli, noting that risk of death can almost double without this new technique. And when treating prostate cancer, he says, including brachytherapy alongside traditional radiation therapy cuts the chance of recurrence by half.

“Brachytherapy allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more specific areas of the body, compared with the conventional form of radiation therapy,” says Dr. Biagioli. “This addition only improves disease control and survival.”

Additional Benefits Of Brachytherapy

Not only does brachytherapy improve patient outcomes, but it does so in a fraction of the time and with fewer side effects.Matthew Biagioli, MD

“For less advanced prostate cancer, patients can undergo 1-2 brachytherapy treatments, as opposed to 28-40 external beam radiation treatments,” says Dr. Biagioli. “And for endometrial cancer patients, they can undergo 3-4 brachytherapy treatments as opposed to 25-28 external radiation treatments.”

Brachytherapy can also be very effective against non-melanomic skin cancers, accomplishing in 7-8 treatments what can require up to 33 rounds of external radiation to fight.

“And by delivering radiation from the inside out, as opposed to the outside in, you can spare the surrounding organs and tissues,” says Dr. Biagioli.

That means fewer side effects to deal with after and in-between treatments.

Learn More

HDR brachytherapy is covered by most insurance plans.

To learn more about HDR brachytherapy, you can hear directly from Dr. Biagioli himself on SMH HealthCasts.

To learn more about oncology services at the Brian D. Jellison Cancer Institute, click here or call 917-7777.

Written by Sarasota Memorial copywriter Philip Lederer, MA, who crafts a variety of external communications for the healthcare system. SMH’s in-house wordsmith, Lederer earned his Master’s degree in Public Administration and Political Philosophy from Morehead State University, Ky, and joined SMH in 2019.

Posted: Dec 6, 2022,
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