Technique paving way for new cervical cancer treatment

Every year, 11,000 women in the United States are diagnosed with cervical cancer. Treatment – which often includes surgery, chemotherapy or radiation – can be a prolonged and difficult process.

Dr. Alexander Hanania, a radiation oncology resident at Baylor College of Medicine, discusses his research looking into a new treatment technique for cervical cancer.

Q: What is interstitial brachytherapy?
A: Interstitial brachytherapy (ISBT) is a form of radiation treatment in which applicators are inserted into the body inside and around the tumor during a minor surgery. After the applicators have been placed, the patient is connected to a device called an after-loader, which loads radioactive isotopes into the catheters for a short period of time to deliver the treatment.

Dr. Alexander Hanania

Q: How is this different from existing therapies for cervical cancer?
A: In the past, patients had to have multiple hospital stays (two procedures, two hospital stays) so we are able to minimize that with ISBT. Also, this technology, having “inverse and adaptive planning,” allows us to target the tumor more accurately and prevent causing harm to normal tissues like the bladder and rectum.

Q: What is the most important thing to know about ISBT?
A: Ultimately, by using modern treatment techniques with ISBT, we are able to provide safe, effective and high-value treatment for locally advanced cervical cancer.

Q: Where can this research lead us in the future?
A: I think radiation treatments will continue to get better as far as precision and limiting toxic effects. For one, I think we will begin to see an increased use of MRI in planning brachytherapy treatments in the future.

Fortunately, cervical tumors are usually responsive to radiation and tend to be controlled, and often eliminated, locally. The big issue in this patient population with locally advanced cervical cancer is the possibility for distant spread, called metastasis. For this, we need more research evaluating new systemic options such as additional chemotherapy or immunotherapy in high-risk patients.

Q: What should patients know about cervical cancer and prevention?
A: It is important to get vaccinated against HPV.  In fact, the FDA recently expanded the availability of the HPV vaccine to include ages 9-45, for males and females. Not only can this prevent cervical cancer, but also mouth and throat (oropharyngeal) cancers.

This has also allowed us to shorten ISBT treatment from five treatments over two hospital stays to four treatments over a three-day hospital stay. This is positive for patients because it means one less admission, one less procedure and one less anesthesia episode.

Additional Resources

Learn more about cervical cancer.

Join Spin for Gyn on Jan. 26 to raise awareness and support for women with gynecologic cancers.

-By Allison Mickey


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