Brachytherapy also called internal radiation therapy is the therapy which is recommended for older women who have breast cancer. This treatment delivers high radiation implants into the tumor. The procedure is done using a catheter. The treatment is given to older women who are in the early stages of breast cancer a year after the cancer has been detected and treated. The treatment is part of the process for preserving the breast rather than removing it. This treatment delivers larger doses of radiation, at the tumor site. It requires less treatments of radiation and the treatment is not as long as traditional radiation treatments. Because the radiation goes to the targeted area less healthy cells are damaged in the process.
It appears that the procedure has been done on many older women before scientific prove that the procedure is successful. According to Dr. Cary P. Gross, associate professor of internal medicine at Yale School of Medicine, “This treatment method seems ideal in theory, but we found it concerning that such an important clinical decision that affects so many women was being made on the basis of theory, rather than scientific evidence.” There were no large clinical trials to support the findings. The study authors were concerned that a procedure would be used without the proper testing being done before hand.
Dr. Gross did a study on the results of brachytherapy on over 30,000 women who had breast cancer. There were 15.8 percent of the women who had brachytherapy in 2008-2009. In the cross country survey the number of women receiving brachytherapy was not uniform; some parts of the country only used this type of therapy 5 percent of the time while other parts of the country employed this method approximately 70 percent of the time.
The brachytherapy treatment had some complications. One year following the treatment there was a 16.5 percent greater chance of women having skin problems and problems with the healing tissues.
Gross, who is co-director of the Robert Wood Johnson Clinical Scholars Program at Yale maintains, “Medicare is spending significantly more money to cover this treatment, which potentially exposes women to a higher risk of complications than the ‘tried and true’ whole breast irradiation.” Whole breast irradiation employs an external beam of radiation. The authors did not comment on the success rate of whole breast irradiation.
It is disturbing for women to find out that proper testing has not been done on the new therapy before women are subjected to it.