Brachytherapy, a means by which to internally deliver radiation to targeted areas of the breast, carries fewer risks of side effects than does external radiation therapy. Since brachytherapy for breast cancer tends to be of shorter duration than conventional radiation treatment, women who undergo the procedure can usually resume their normal routines much sooner. Brachytherapy can, however, carry risks of swelling and tenderness, which tend to be limited to the area being treated.
Internal radiotherapy is usually recommended for women who have undergone a lumpectomy and require radiation to destroy any cancer cells that might remain. With brachytherapy for breast cancer, small tubes are used to deliver radiation to precise areas of the breast that need treatment. Side effects are much less widespread than with external radiation therapy, which affects not only diseased tissue but healthy tissue. Sealed source radiotherapy affects only diseased tissue and those regions in the affected site's immediate proximity.
Since brachytherapy preserves a woman's breast and results in little to no change in the breast's appearance, this radiation treatment is regarded as a type of breast conservation therapy (BCT). Brachytherapy is less risky for other areas of a woman's body as well. The targeted means by which brachytherapy delivers radiation means that it poses much less risk to a woman's other breast as well as to other areas of her body, such as her heart and lungs.
Brachytherapy for breast cancer can be accomplished in a much shorter time than treating with conventional radiation therapy. A woman can usually complete brachytherapy treatment within a week, after which she may return to her normal routine. Treatment of breast cancer by external radiation therapy, however, usually requires up to seven weeks. Since side effects of brachytherapy are minimal and the treatment takes less time than treating with conventional radiation, women will likely experience quicker recovery.
Risks of brachytherapy for breast cancer include swelling or tenderness in the area of the breast that is being treated. Due to the targeted nature of the treatment, widespread tissue reactions are highly unlikely. There is a risk of scarring; however, scars that arise as a result of this procedure are not large and usually fade away in time. Not all women are candidates for the procedure. Brachytherapy for breast cancer is only appropriate for women who have been diagnosed with early stage cancer that has not metastasized to other areas of the body.