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Brachytherapy for oral cancer

What is brachytherapy?

There are two types of brachytherapy: high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy and low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy.

High-dose rate brachytherapy

High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy offers a fast, precise way to give radiation treatment for some cancer patients. The radiation is deposited inside a tumor, delivering a maximum dose while minimizing exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue.

HDR brachytherapy uses laser-thin, hollow catheters to deliver a precise, three-dimensional dose of radiation. The catheters are temporarily inserted in and around the region of the tumor using image-guidance (usually ultrasound, CT scan or MRI), before each treatment.

With a few well-placed catheters, HDR brachytherapy can provide a very precise treatment for cancer that takes only a few minutes. After a series of treatments, the catheters are removed. There are no radioactive seeds left in the body, as is the case with other types of brachytherapy.

Each HDR brachytherapy treatment takes about 15-20 minutes.

Low-dose rate brachytherapy

Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy is similar to high-dose rate brachytherapy. At CTCA, we deliver LDR brachytherapy in two ways:

  • Temporary LDR Brachytherapy: With this approach, a thin, hollow, plastic tube is inserted in and around the tumor. These tubes are loaded with tiny radioactive seeds, about the size of a grain of rice. These seeds remain in place for a few days, killing the cancer cells with radiation. This treatment requires a hospital stay, and visits from family, nurses, and other caregivers are limited as a precaution. After a few days, the seeds and tubes are removed, with no radiation remaining in the body afterwards.
  • Permanent LDR Brachytherapy: This type of low-dose rate brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds directly into the oral cancer tumor. These pellets emit low levels of radiation for several weeks. When this radiation treatment ends, the harmless seeds are left in place permanently.

Brachytherapy for oral cancer

Brachytherapy is a promising alternative to surgery for some oral cancer patients. Because there is no incision and no surgical wound to heal, recovery from the procedure is generally rapid.

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