High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy
High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy has shortened radiation treatments for some gynecologic cancers from days to hours.
With HDR, we can give higher doses of radiation during a clinic visit to get rid of cancer and reduce the chance of recurrence.
Brachytherapy (bray-kee-therapy) comes from the Greek root “brachy,” meaning short or close by. When an intense radioactive source is placed in or near malignant tissue, cancer-killing energy is not held back by layers of skin and muscle. Normal tissues receive less radiation than from an external beam, which means fewer complications. Nausea, hair loss and diarrhea are much less likely to occur.
The most common use of HDR at Gundersen to date has been postoperative brachytherapy for endometrial cancer. Previously, patients were admitted to the hospital for complete bed rest because they had to hold relatively still for two or three days. They were also radioactive during this period. With HDR, treatments are completed in three outpatient sessions, each lasting one to two hours. Patients can go home without worrying about exposing family members to residual radioactivity.
HDR has also been used to treat inoperable cervical cancer. The previous treatment required two hospitalizations. The much shorter HDR process includes applicator placement, followed by 10 minutes of radiation. The patient usually returns home the same day.
The HDR source emits radiation at a much higher rate than a traditional source, which accounts for the shorter treatment times.
HDR brachytherapy has also been used to treat tumors obstructing bronchial passages. During a pre-treatment bronchoscopy, a pulmonologist, places a thin catheter through the patient’s nose into a cancerous tumor. Patients require three or four treatments to shrink tumors and open airways.