A new study has found brachytherapy to be effective in the fight against common skin cancer. The results of the study announced at the Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting reveals that if elderly patients having skin-related cancers are treated with HDR brachytherapy, they show exceptional cosmetic outcomes and recovery rates.
Among various types of cancers that affect an individual’s skin, the most common are basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and squamous cell carcinoma (SCC). In the U.S., approximately 3 million individuals are influenced by these two types of skin cancer per year.
Even though both of these skin cancer types are less lethal than melanoma and highly treatable, they can cause much damage and require high treatment costs. Some of the treatment methods for BCC and SCC are the removal of affected part by surgery, external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), and conventional radiation therapy (CRT).
Ashwatha Narayana is the Chairperson of the Department of Radiation Oncology at the Mount Kisco Northern Westchester Hospital, New York. According to him, surgery isn’t the best choice for elderly patients who are suffering from some other medical conditions or impaired healing.
There may be a need for grafting or multiple surgeries if the area affected by the cancer is eyelid, ear, or tip of the nose. In HDR (high-dose-rate) brachytherapy, the cancerous cells are exposed with a specific radiation dose using catheters inserted into a custom-fitted applicator.
Contrary to six-week EBRT including almost 6 hourly treatment sessions, HDR brachytherapy is characterized by six treatment sessions over two weeks, each lasting for three minutes. According to Dr. Narayana, in elderly patients, treatment using EBRT can be quite painful and lengthy.
EBRT can also enhance side effects by exposing a healthy area surrounding the lesion to the radiation. Whereas, unlike external beam radiation therapy, HDR brachytherapy protects the healthy area from radiation exposure by providing a higher radiation dose directly to the cancerous tissue.
The patients treated with brachytherapy require minimal time for recovery and experience little or no side effects such as diarrhea, nausea, or hair loss. And after getting treatment, they can easily return to their daily life activities.
In this study, seventy patients aged 70 – 100 years with an initial stage of SCC and BCC, were exposed to HDR brachytherapy under the observation of radiologists. And were followed for an average of two years.
During 2013 – 2019, eighty-one lesions (SCC= 28, BCC= 53) were treated using this method. These may include lesions on the face, ear, forehead, nose, neck, scalp, and legs, sized nearly 3 – 26 mm having an average of 10 millimeters.
The results of the study showed that HDR brachytherapy is a better option for treating skin cancer compared to surgery. The recovery rates using brachytherapy were 98 percent in BCC patients and 96 percent in SCC patients.
Even though brachytherapy is a well-known method to treat other cancer types, it isn’t found to be much effective for curing non-melanoma skin cancers on the neck and face. Brachytherapy is an effective method for curing skin cancers in both younger and elderly patients.
Dr. Narayana expects that awareness regarding HDR brachytherapy as a substitute to EBRT and surgery can be increased by the findings of this study and the research in the future.