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Brachytherapy: An effective form of radiation therapy

April 4th 2006

Brachytherapy: An effective form of radiation therapy

Author's Book

Brachytherpy (pronounced bray-kee-ther-uh-pee) is a Greek term; "brachy" means short distance and "therapy" means treatment.  It is the form of radiation therapy that places radioactive materials, or sources, in or just next to a tumor or body site at risk for harboring tumor cells.  This is in contrast to external beam radiation therapy, which is delivered via a linear accelerator at a distance from the tumor, outside the personís body.

During brachytherapy, the radioactive source or sources are left in place temporarily or permanently, depending on the type of cancer.  To position the source or sources accurately, special small tubes called catheters or applicators are used.  Also, depending on the area being treated, people may undergo several treatments over a number of days or weeks.

There are two main categories of brachytherapy: intracavitary treatment and interstitial treatment.  With the former, the radioactive source or sources are inserted into a space near the tumorís location, such as the cervix, the vagina, the esophagus, or the windpipe.  With the latter form of brachytherapy, the radioactive material is implanted directly into the tissues, such as the prostate.  In fact, a prostate seed implant is an example of an interstitial implant.

 

Sometimes, the procedure requires anesthesia and a brief hospital admission.  People who undergo permanent implants have very few restrictions and may shortly return to their normal activities.  Temporary implants are left inside the personís body for several minutes, hours, or days.  While the radioactive sources are in place, the person will stay in a private hospital room.  Nurses and others involved in the personís medical care take special precautions to limit their exposure to radiation.

Depending on the type of brachytherapy the person receives, he or she might need to take some precautions afterwards, particularly if he or she plans to be around children or pregnant women.  The person will be counseled about this by the radiation therapy team.

 

The high-dose-rate afterloading machine allows radiation oncologists to complete brachytherapy quickly, in about 10 to 20 minutes.  A single, potent radioactive source travels through one or more catheters to the tumor for the amount of time prescribed by the radiation oncologist.  People go home after the procedure.  This is in contrast to low-dose-rate afterloading, which requires at least an overnight hospital stay in order for the required dose of radiation therapy to be administered.  For the most part, high-dose-rate afterloading, which is quicker, is also kinder and gentler.

Most people feel little discomfort during brachytherapy.  If the radioactive source is held in place with an applicator, the person might feel discomfort from the applicator itself. Also, there might be some soreness from an interstitial implant for the first few days or weeks. However, if this is the case, there are medications the radiation oncologist can prescribe to ease the discomfort. 

 

The good news is that brachytherapy is a sophisticated and highly effective tool at controlling and even curing cancer.  For more information, visit www.RTanswers.org
Copyright 2006 by Carol L. Kornmehl. All rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced without express written consent of the author.

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Dr. Kornmehl is a board certified radiation oncologist and author of the critically acclaimed consumer health book, "The Best News About Radiation Therapy" (M, Evans, 2004).  Her website is www.RTSupportDoc.com .

 

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Important:  The material on Best Syndication is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for any medical conditions. You should promptly seek professional medical care if you have any concern about your health, and you should always consult your physician before starting a fitness program.
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Copyright 2005 Best Syndication                   Last Updated Saturday, July 10, 2010 09:50 PM