What is partial breast brachytherapy?
Partial breast brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment used to treat breast cancer that delivers radiation only to the breast tissue that is at the highest risk of harboring cancer cells. Instead of aiming radiation beams from outside the body, a radioactive source is placed directly into the breast tissue and delivers radiation to a rim of tissue surrounding the lumpectomy cavity. Because a smaller volume of tissue is treated, the treatment can be delivered over a shorter period of time, typically 5 days instead of several weeks.
This method makes it more convenient to receive radiation therapy after a lumpectomy. In addition to being convenient, brachtherapy allows doctors to deliver radiation to the tumor site while reducing the radiation that reaches healthy tissues such as your lungs, heart, skin and uninvolved healthy breast tissue.
The option of brachytherapy may be particularly important in ensuring that working women, the elderly or women who live far from a treatment center, are able to benefit from breast-conserving therapy due to the short treatment course compared with external beam radiation.
What does the procedure involve?
Several days to several weeks after the lumpectomy surgery, a catheter tube with a deflated balloon at the tip is inserted into the space left by the lumpectomy. The balloon is then inflated with a salt water solution so that the balloon fills the space or cavity left by the lumpectomy. The catheter can be inserted in your surgeon’s office with local anesthesia. The balloon and tube are left in place throughout the treatment (with the end of the tube protruding from the breast). When you bathe or shower, you cannot allow water to hit the site where the tube exits the skin. Other than this, you can do most of your usual activities. Typically you also see your radiation oncologist the same day the catheter and balloon are inserted, so that radiation treatment planning can be initiated. This usually takes about 1 hour during which images of the balloon in your breast are obtained. You then go home with the balloon in place and start your treatments the next day.
Twice a day a radioactive seed is placed into the middle of the balloon through the catheter tube and then removed. This is done for 5 days as an outpatient treatment. The balloon is then deflated and removed after the last treatment.
What are the indications for breast brachytherapy?
Breast brachytherapy is a very effective treatment for early stage breast cancer. Specific tumor and patient characteristics also determine whether a woman is a good candidate for 5 day breast brachytherapy. You should have a thorough conversation with your doctor to determine your specific eligibility.