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Cheryl Wells said her cancer treatment was as simple as it sounds: Take the medicine - in this case, small pellets of high-dose radiation - and put it right where it needs to be.
For Wells, a school nurse in Leadville, that was right on top of the stage two endemetrial cancer that forced her to get a hysterctomy a few months ago.
“I didn’t feel any pain,” she said. “They use a speculum as a holder and a CT scanner to feed the radiation in while everyone leaves the room. The procedure took 10 minutes.”
Four radiation treatments of high-dose rate brachytheraphy later, to prevent recurrence, and she is confident of being cancer-free.
“I was scared,” Wells said. “When you walk into a cancer center, you say to yourself, ‘Wow, I guess I do have cancer.’ It made me think maybe I should start working on the things really important to me for the next five years.”
Unlike the traditional radiation treatments, HDR brachytherapy delivers radiation internally and directly to the tumor site. While the theory behind the technique may be simple, the technology that makes it possible is highly advanced, says Thornton Radiation Oncologist Daniel Chin, MD of the Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers.
During treatment, tiny, hollow catheters are temporarily inserted directly into the tumor or tumor site. Before each treatment, Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers radiation oncologists determine the proper position of the catheters with millimeter precision.
Next, a series of radioactive pellets are inserted into each catheter. Computer guidance controls where the radiation is delivered, and how long the pellet stays in the catheter to release its radiation dose.
At Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers, HDR brachytherapy is used most often to treat gynecologic cancers, as well as skin and bile duct cancers, Chin says.
Elsewhere, it frequently also is used for breast, prostate, esophageal cancers, and in some cases to treat soft-tissue sarcomas and cancers of the bronchial passageways, he says.
HDR brachytherapy isn’t an option for every patient who needs radiation, Chin said.
“Sometimes, we do need to treat a larger area, or lymph nodes that are at risk,” he said. “That can only be done with external radiation.”
But when it’s appropriate, “HDR brachytherapy offers effective therapy in fewer treatments, with fewer side effects,” Chin said.
A long-standing resident of Leadville, Wells hikes every day.
“Don’t be afraid of the therapy,” she said. “It ended up not being a difficul treatment. It’s also good to be in eally good shape before surgery.”
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