Madrid, 30 October 2019. Greater precision, and therefore less aggressiveness and fewer side effects. These are the main advantages of the latest image-guided high dose-rate brachytherapy technology offered by the MD Anderson Cancer Center Madrid. It’s pioneering tech for Spain, and it’s quite new for Europe as well, where there are only two or three units of this kind installed in hospitals.
“We’ve got the latest update of this brachytherapy technology, the cutting-edge item, which enables us to define the structures to be treated more accurately and therefore administer better treatments more safely”, says Doctor Natalia Carballo, head of the Radiation Therapy Oncology Department of MD Anderson Madrid.
The main new feature of this technique isn’t what it does, but the power the new equipment brings to bear. It is primarily used to treat patients with gynaecological tumours (cervical and endometrial cancer). It can also be used on skin tumours, on the face of very elderly people who cannot undergo surgery, in endobronchial tumours and in bleeding vaginal tumours. “Approximately 10 to 15% of cancer patients are candidates for brachytherapy treatment”, Doctor Carballo states.
The main difference between radiation therapy and brachytherapy is that, while brachytherapy requires direct contact between the tumour and a source of radiation, radiation therapy does not, because it consists in using a linear accelerator to administer radiation that penetrates different tissues until it reaches the tumour.
Brachytherapy may be given on an outpatient basis, with or without sedation, or it may be administered in an intraoperative setting while the patient is still anesthetised, right after the tumour is removed. In every case, a CAT or MRI scan is run before starting treatment to pinpoint the tumour’s location. Next, an applicator is set in place, through which the source of radiation is to be inserted, and doctors begin working on designing the radiation according to the imaging test results. “The radiation process may take 15 to 30 minutes, and the whole procedure takes around two or three hours”, explains Doctor Carballo.
With high dose-rate brachytherapy, the patient doesn’t have to be hospitalised in isolation
Afterwards, the source of radiation is removed, and the patient can go right home. That’s the main difference in comparison to low dose-rate brachytherapy. “Low dose-rate treatments require the patient to be hospitalised and isolated in a lead-lined room, because you can’t remove the source of radiation until all three to five sessions are over”, explains Doctor Carballo, who goes on to clarify that hospitals almost never use the low dose-rate technique nowadays.
High dose-rate brachytherapy has improved the quality of life substantially for patients. They can go home after each session and come back to the hospital for the next session, where the same process is repeated. “Every time the patient comes in, we perform a CAT scan or MRI so, if the tumour has shrunk due to previous sessions, we can tailor the treatment to the precise current size of the tumour”, asserts Doctor Carballo.