A High Dose Brachytherapy May Treat Skin Cancer In Elderly Patients 

The new study highlights a remarkable treatment of skin cancer in elderly patients by using high-dose brachytherapy. This study was presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) in Chicago, today. Every year, more than 3 million US citizens are diagnosed from squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC), two highly prevalent types of skin cancer.

There are high chances to completely treat these skin cancers. Also, they are not as dangerous as melanoma but still, treatment of skin cancer is expensive and may not be affordable by everyone.

Typical treatments for squamous and basal cell carcinomas are through surgery, radiation therapy or a combination of both. But for elderly patients, the standard healing process is slow and there are high chances that these typical treatments may cause other medical conditions. That is why Dr. Ashwatha Narayana, who is chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, New York, doesn’t recommend surgery as the best treatment option for elderly skin cancer patients.

He further added that is the affected area is a visible part of the face of the body, it may also require skin grafting surgeries which is extra for elderly patients. That is why it is difficult for old age patients to go through surgical removal of squamous cell carcinoma (SCC) and basal cell carcinoma (BCC).

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The new study proposes to use high-dose-rate brachytherapy in which the patient is subjected to an accurate dose of radiation by using catheters. These catheters are implanted inside an applicator that is custom-fitted for the patient. This new procedure is different from the typical six-week-long external beam based radiation therapy which takes up to six hours to complete. This precise and high-dose-rate brachytherapy only takes six three-minute each session for two weeks.

Dr. Narayana shared that the old, conventional treatment using external beam radiation therapy could be too long, uncomfortable and painful for old age patients. It also affects the healthy tissues around the infected part, which may bring side effects. But Brachytherapy only targets the specific are and doesn’t affect the nearby tissues at all. It means it has no side effects at all. Furthermore, patients subjected to brachytherapy patients take minimal recovery time than external beam radiation therapy patients.

The study investigated the use of high-dose-rate brachytherapy in 70 cancer patients. All of them aged between 70 and 100 (average age of 85 years). These study participants were diagnosed with an early-stage BCC and SCC and had cancer lesions on visible body parts i.e. nose, scalp, forehead, face, neck, legs and ears in different sizes. These patients were followed up for four years after the treatment before analyzing the stats.

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More than  96% of patients with squamous cell carcinoma showed complete healing and 98% in patients having basal cell carcinoma were healed. In 90% of the cases, the outlook after the treatment of skin cancer was great and didn’t require a skin graft. Dr. Narayana finds these results as “remarkable” as compared to typical surgical treatment.

Brachytherapy is not a completely new thing. Rather, it has been commonly used to treat other types of cancers. However, it didn’t catch the attention of radiologists to be used in treating non-melanoma skin cancers, especially on visible body parts.

The study authors are hopeful that this experiment would spread awareness of using the high-dose-rate brachytherapy as a new treatment for non-melanoma skin cancer.

Click here to read the original press release from Radiological Society of North America (RSNA)