What it is:
Instead of bombarding the breast with external radiation, brachytherapy is an experimental procedure that involves placing five to 15 tiny catheters into the breast (under local anaesthetic) where the tumour was previously located. Next, radioactive pellets are sent through the catheters to kill cancer cells. This treatment is only prescribed for early stage breast cancer in which the tumour is no more than three centimeters and no lymph nodes are cancerous.
Brachytherapy is currently being studied at:
- Montreal’s Ville Marie Oncology Centre
- Vancouver Island (BC Cancer Agency)
- Centre Hospitalier des Vallées de l’Outaouais
- Dr. Laval Grimard at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre is hoping to launch a nationwide study of brachytherapy in 2004. Women with breast cancer will be recruited by their doctors.
How it is administered:
Two 15- to 20-minute sessions a day, for five consecutive days.
Possible temporary side-effects:
- Grogginess from intravenous sedation (first day only).
- Skin irritation at the catheter sites.
- There is a small risk of infection. Approximately one in 50 women reacts to the pellets entering the breast.
How you can cope:
- Because you’ll feel a little groggy from the sedatives given when the catheters are placed, you might want a ride to and from the first appointment. You may also feel fatigued after treatments, so arrange for help with meals and child care.
- Ask your family and friends to pitch in.
- Contact the Canadian Cancer Society and click on your province or call 1/888/939-3333 to find out about community services.
Routine follow-up :
- After treatment there is wide variation with respect to follow-up appointments where you’ll have a physical examination and blood tests. Talk to your doctor about your schedule.
- Once a year you’ll have a mammogram.