Electronic Internal Radiation Device Shows Promise

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A small, early study reports preliminary results on a new way to deliver internal radiation therapy (also called brachytherapy) that doesn't use radioactive material. The new technique is called the Axxent system and it successfully delivered the specified dose of radiation therapy to 44 women so far.

Axxent system side effects were similar to side effects from other forms of internal radiation therapy.

The results were presented at the 2008 American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) Breast Cancer Symposium.

Radiation therapy is commonly used after early breast cancer surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may have been left behind and to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Radiation therapy can be delivered by an external beam of radiation aimed at the area where the cancer used to be. This is called external radiation. Radiation therapy also can be delivered by placing a very small amount of radioactive material in the form of seeds or pellets under the skin where the cancer was removed. This is called brachytherapy or internal partial-breast irradiation.

Brachytherapy has the advantage of delivering very targeted radiation exactly where it's needed. Brachytherapy usually is given over 5 to 7 days, a shorter treatment time than external radiation, which usually takes 5 to 7 weeks. Still, current brachytherapy systems require a skilled and experienced medical team and available radioactive materials.

The Axxent system uses electricity and miniature x-ray tubes instead of radioactive materials as the source of radiation for treatment. A balloon-type device with very small cylinders is placed in the breast where the cancer used to be. The device is connected to equipment that supplies power to the miniature x-ray tubes. The cylinders carry the energy from the miniature x-ray tubes to the tissue. The device is removed after treatment is done. The women in this study received radiation treatment with the Axxent system twice a day for 5 days. All of the women in the study had had surgery to remove early-stage breast cancer.

Side effects of the Axxent system were similar to side effects seen with other brachytherapy techniques:

  • fatigue
  • pain
  • swelling
  • breast firmness
  • redness (erythema)
  • blistering

One woman developed a mild infection that was treated and went away. The balloon-type device ruptured in two cases during treatment but this didn't cause any problems.

It will be some time before doctors are confident this new brachytherapy technique is a good way to deliver internal partial-breast radiation therapy.

If radiation therapy is part of your treatment plan after surgery, you and your doctor will talk about which approach to radiation therapy makes the most sense for you. For some women, external radiation is the best approach. For others, internal partial-breast radiation therapy may be a good option. The Breastcancer.org Radiation Therapy section offers more information, including how radiation works to treat breast cancer, the different approaches to delivering radiation, and what to expect during and after treatment.

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