Radioactive Seeds May Offer Treatment Option for Breast Cancer
"I'm ecstatic and would certainly recommend this protocol to certain people," she says. "Some women, on an emotional and psychological level, may feel more comfortable going for the whole hog," she notes, referring to the current standard of care of mastectomy or lumpectomy (surgical removal of the tumor), followed by radiation.
Aside from the experimental treatment protocol that Mulrain chose and received, there are two ways that brachytherapy can be incorporated into breast cancer care in the U.S. In one case, breast tumors are often treated with a combination of lumpectomy followed by external radiotherapy to the whole breast, and in some cases, this radiation can be given via brachytherapy. Some women whose cancer recurs after initial treatment may then try brachytherapy to avoid undergoing a mastectomy.
Most radiation oncologists stress that using brachytherapy instead of external beam radiation for breast cancer is a new idea. Because of this, they are still not sure if the results will be better, the same, or worse than the results seen after whole external beam radiation.
However, even if the results are approximately the same, brachytherapy is a shorter treatment and has the potential for irradiating less of the healthy tissues.
"It's an alternative to external beam radiation to the breast," says Douglas Kelly, MD, a radiation oncologist at Cancer Treatment Centers of America in Tulsa, Okla. "When women are newly diagnosed with breast cancer, they have an option of mastectomy or lumpectomy followed by radiation. Historically, breast radiation is done with external beam radiation to breast over six or seven weeks, but brachytherapy offers an alternative to whole-breast radiation."
The most widely used type of radiation therapy for people with cancer, external beam radiation is similar to getting an X-ray, but for a longer period of time. It is typically given in daily fractions over several weeks.
One of the main advantages of brachytherapy is that it only takes five days, whereas external beam radiation takes much longer, Kelly tells WebMD.
In addition, "Not a lot of radiation reaches the skin," he says, "so there is less skin reaction and less radiation reaching the ribs, lungs, and heart, where it can cause adverse effects.