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April 19, 2022

Brachytherapy at Penn Medicine now offers a new radiation option for patients with prostate cancer

The Abramson Cancer Center offers an effective outpatient treatment program with fewer side effects

Adult Health Cancer

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Limited - Penn Medicine - Brachytherapy Scott Nibauer/For Penn Medicine

Approximately one in eight men will develop prostate cancer, which is the second-leading cause of cancer death in American men and typically affects patients who are 65 or older.

Fortunately, the outlook for men with prostate cancer has transformed for the better in recent years. Early detection, diligent follow-up care and advances in radiological treatments have greatly improved survival rates, curing many patients in the early stages of the disease and extending the lives of those who may face a more difficult prognosis.

Other forms of radiation therapy — such as proton therapy, intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and other X-ray therapies — can require patients to undergo several dozen treatment sessions over a period of up to ten weeks.

Brachytherapy, an internal radiation technique newly available at Penn Medicine, gives patients with prostate cancer an additional opportunity to pursue a more manageable treatment option when they visit the Philadelphia region's top-trained doctors at the Perelman Center for Advanced Medicine.

Penn Radiation Oncology is excited to introduce high-dose-rate (HDR) prostate brachytherapy, which provides a compact treatment timeframe and is often associated with milder side effects than other brachytherapy techniques and external radiation.

What is brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a method of delivering radioactive sources to a very targeted area inside the body. With precise placement of hollow tubes directly into the prostate, doctors direct radiation into the tumor tissue performed in outpatient procedures. The method utilizes high doses of radiation to target much smaller areas than would be possible with external beam radiation therapy. This nearly eliminates radiation exposure to other parts of the body.

Limited - Penn Medicine - Dr. Neil Taunk

Dr. Neil Taunk

“Brachytherapy is the best way to safely deliver very high doses of radiation to the prostate,” said Dr. Neil Taunk, Director of Brachytherapy and Procedural Radiation at Penn Medicine. “With HDR prostate brachytherapy, patients need minimal treatment visits, can quickly resume normal activities, and are immediately safe to be near their loved ones.”

The best candidates for brachytherapy treatment are those who have a prostate tumor that is confined to the prostate gland. Brachytherapy can also be suited for patients with low, intermediate, or high-risk prostate cancer, a decision that will be reached during consultations with Penn Medicine's radiation oncologists. In addition, men with a local recurrence of prostate cancer after prior external beam radiation may be suitable.

Depending on the stage and location of the patient's tumor, doctors may advise using a combination of external and internal radiation therapy. Brachytherapy, with or without additional external radiation, is a treatment option sufficient on its own to treat a tumor instead of a surgical procedure to remove it.

Penn Medicine's patient-centered approach to cancer care has a tireless focus not only on results, but on the comfort of everyone who entrusts their care to the medical team at the Abramson Cancer Center.

Treatment at Penn Medicine

Penn Medicine offers high-dose-rate (HDR) prostate brachytherapy treatment that is performed in an outpatient procedure. During each procedure under anesthesia, the patient is placed in a comfortable position while doctors insert hollow tubes that deliver radiation treatment directly to the tumor.

Radioactive material remains in the patient’s body for no longer than 20 minutes, so there is no radiation risk to other people once the treatment concludes. Depending on the patient’s clinical needs, they may need 1 or 2 of these procedures. Patients generally do not experience pain and can resume normal activities after the treatment is completed.

Brachytherapy at Penn Medicine is combined with advanced imaging such as MRI and ultrasound to ensure that radiation treatment is delivered accurately and safely to the patient's target area.

Treatment for other types of cancer

In addition to treating patients with prostate cancer, Penn Medicine's brachytherapy program may be suitable for patients with skin cancer, sarcoma, cervical cancer, head and neck cancer, uterine cancer, and breast cancer.

“With brachytherapy, we can cure many non-melanoma skin cancers in short treatment visits without surgery, and safely treat patients with certain head and neck tumors that we could not effectively treat before,” said Dr. Nicholas Lukens, a radiation oncologist at Penn Medicine, and an expert in head and neck, and skin cancers.

The medical team at the Abramson Cancer Center is committed to offering the most advanced and proven radiation treatments, guiding patients through the individualized care plan that will best position them to succeed. Those who are interested in learning more about whether brachytherapy is an option for them are encouraged to connect with Penn Medicine for information.

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