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Rectal cancer

Brachytherapy for treating rectal cancer

Rectal cancer is a form of bowel cancer. Current treatment methods for rectal cancer include surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Brachytherapy is currently being investigated as part of the treatment for rectal cancer, by helping to shrink the size of the tumor before surgery, possibly enabling sphincter sparing treatments. The aim is to make the removal of the tumor easier, together with helping to prevent the cancer from returning in the future.1 Brachytherapy for rectal cancer involves a special applicator being placed into the rectum (back passage) and positioned close to the tumor. Radiation is then delivered via the applicator directly to the site of the tumor. The applicator is left in place for a short time during the procedure to give the required dose and is removed after each treatment session.

The delivery of brachytherapy can be provided in 4 treatment sessions that are delivered in 4 days. The duration of the total treatment can therefore be shorter compared with the alternative form of radiotherapy (external beam radiotherapy).2 External beam radiotherapy directs radiation from outside of the body, and treatment may be spread out over several weeks.

As brachytherapy precisely delivers the dose of radiation from inside the body, it is generally associated with fewer side effects.2 This is because brachytherapy minimizes the risk of healthy surrounding tissues and organs (such as the bladder, prostate and skin) being exposed to the radiation.

Learn more about the principles of brachytherapy.

1. Vuong T, Devic S, Podgorsak E. Clin Oncol (R Coll Radiol) 2007;19(9):701-5.
2. Mazeron JJ and Van Limbergen E. In: The GEC ESTRO Handbook of Brachytherapy. Gerbaulet A, Pötter R, Mazeron J-J, et al (Eds). Leuven, Belgium, ACCO. 2002.