People with gynecologic and prostate cancers can now receive high-dose, targeted radiation therapy in a few hours in a dedicated brachytherapy suite at the Duke Cancer Center. Having advanced imaging and treatment planning technology in one convenient location minimizes the need for an overnight hospital stay, as well as the discomfort and safety concerns typically associated with delivering high-dose radiation.
Brachytherapy has become a more patient-friendly treatment.
Few Centers Fully Equipped to Offer Outpatient Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy, sometimes called internal radiation, is a proven cancer treatment that involves placing radioactive seeds or pellets into or near a tumor through catheters. The delivery of high doses of radiation to a specific area has many advances over conventional radiation therapy: careful mapping ensures the radiation is targeted to the tumor while minimizing exposure to the normal surrounding tissue. It requires shorter treatment and recovery times, and it has proven extremely effective in treating prostate, uterine, cervical and vaginal cancers, explains Junzo Chino, MD, a Duke radiation oncologist. In gynecologic cancers, brachytherapy has even been shown to help people live longer compared with conventional radiation therapy.
But the treatment is generally underutilized. Only a handful of medical centers in the U.S. and Canada are as fully equipped as Duke to offer brachytherapy in a manner that is safe, patient-friendly and optimally effective – primarily because they lack the dedicated space and the trained technical staff to provide it.
Treatment Reduced to Hours, Not Days
The Duke Cancer Center has opened a dedicated brachytherapy suite that allows radiation oncologists to both plan and deliver treatments in the same space, bringing improved safety and convenience to people who are undergoing a highly delicate procedure.
For men with prostate cancer and women with cervical, uterine and vaginal cancers, this new suite will drastically reduce the amount of time they need to stay in the hospital. This is likely to result in cost savings over the course of their treatment. Until recently, treating these cancers often involved inserting radioactive material in the patient’s urogenital tract for several hours or days, which caused the patient to become radioactive and require isolation and an extended hospital stay, explained Robert Lee, MD, a Duke radiation oncologist.
The brachytherapy suite allows for the treatment to be done as an outpatient procedure. "It allows us to plan and treat the patient in one hospital area," Dr. Lee said. The entire procedure takes about three hours. "It's become a more patient friendly treatment," he added.