Kevin Albuquerque, M.D. Answers Questions On: Brachytherapy
What is image-guided high-dose rate brachytherapy?
Image-guided, or image-based, high-dose rate brachytherapy delivers radiation directly to the tumor. We do that either by needles or by probes that we insert into the tumor or into the organ. We then connect radiation sources directly to the tumor.
Brachytherapy is different than normal radiation, where the radiation is given through high-energy X-rays.
In simple terminology, we call this “internal radiation,” but in medical terminology it’s called brachytherapy. “Brachy” means “next to” and the treatment is essentially delivered next to the tumor. The other therapy is called teletherapy, which is, by comparison, far-away therapy. So, brachytherapy is close therapy or near therapy.
What are the benefits of brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy allows patients to avoid surgery. Surgery for many types of tumors, like tumors of the uterine wall or vagina, require cutting a number of organs, such as the vagina and the rectum, to get to the tumor.
Brachytherapy kills the tumor and preserves the organs. Without surgery, patients preserve their normal waste functions, which helps with quality of life.
When would you offer gynecologic brachytherapy as opposed to other options?
We use brachytherapy for most gynecologic sites because the organs are close to the vagina. Radiation oncologists are able to insert instruments into the vagina and get close to the organs.
You can only give high doses of radiation using brachytherapy, and these high doses kill the tumors faster. Simply put, for some tumors, especially gynecologic tumors, brachytherapy is absolutely necessary. Without brachytherapy you can’t cure the tumor.
Another benefit is that brachytherapy can be done quickly. If patients are unable to come for standard treatments, for breast treatments in particular – those might take five or six weeks – brachytherapy is ideal because it can be done within one week.
Finally, brachytherapy may improve a patient’s quality of life. My research showed that brachytherapy, when compared to traditional radiation therapy, can actually improve the quality of life for breast cancer patients.
Why should patients come to UT Southwestern for brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy is a very complex treatment, so you need someone who is very skilled in this procedure.
I’ve spent my entire career treating gynecologic cancer, with a particular focus on brachytherapy. The years of experience, skill, and care coordination that we offer at UT Southwestern improve the outcomes for patients.