Cervical cancer refers to the abnormal growth of the tissues lining the cervix. It is one of the commonest cancers affecting women and late detection makes millions succumb to this deadly disease.
The normal treatment method adopted for cervical cancer is surgical removal of the uterus in advanced cases and removal of cervix or part of the cervix depending on the stage of cancer. This is normally followed by radiation treatment which involves the use of high energy beams for treating the cancer cells and chemotherapy which uses drugs for treatment.
These treatment methods are combined in an effort to stop recurrence and metastasis of cancer cells. One of the methods of radiation therapy that is administered to cervical cancer patients is brachytherapy.
What is Brachytherapy?
Brachythereapy is a kind of radiation treatment done for patients suffering from cervical and prostate cancer. However, in this method of treatment, energy beams are not given externally to destroy the cancer cells. The treatment involves internal radiation, administered by inserting radioactive seeds near the cancerous cells. The radiation destroys the cancer cells inside the cervix and controls the spreading of cancer to other areas of the body.
Brachytherapy sessions are held thrice a week and continue for about two months. But this can be shorter or longer in duration depending on the stage of cancer that is being treated and how far the cancer has metastasized.
Benefits Of Brachytherapy
A brachytherepy treatment method has several advantages over a normal radiation therapy and surgery. The benefit is especially good for people who are very old and for those who have heart and other medical complications that make them incapable of undergoing a surgery for removal of tumours. The internal radiation changes the DNA of the cancer cells, making it difficult for them to spread fast and facilitating their ultimate death.
For cervical cancer patients, sometimes brachytherapy is first done in order to reduce the size of the tumours and then external beam radiation and chemotherapy is administered in lower doses, as brachytherapy can increase the efficiency of a chemo session.
Side Effects And Risks Of Brachytherapy
Though this is a novel treatment method, it isn’t free from side effects. Temporary side effects may arise as nausea, digestive disorders like loose stools, stomach upset, urinary incontinence, dryness in the vaginal canal, painful sex, vaginal soreness and bleeding etc. But these difficulties will be set right once the treatment is complete.
There are also many side effects that can cause permanent damage to the reproductive organs. But this is not very common and few people experience them. The vaginal canal becomes very narrow because of the radiation treatment. The length of the vaginal cavity is also shortened due to the procedure, rendering sex very painful and uncomfortable. Menopause too is sometimes accelerated as a result of brachytherapy. Another important side effect of brachytherapy is loss of bone density.
But when you look at the overall good points of brachytherapy, the side effects are not very prominent. The main advantage of brachytherapy is that it can be administered in any stage of cervical cancer.