Jefferson University Hospitals

New Brachytherapy Suite Opens at Jefferson's Kimmel Cancer Center



Thomas Jefferson University Hospital's Department of Radiation Oncology has unveiled the region's only image-guided brachytherapy suite, where patients can have radiation imaging, planning and treatment in a single location without being moved.

The dedicated room for high-dose brachytherapy — where radioactive sources are temporarily placed inside the tumor, allowing for higher doses and sparing of healthy tissue — helps Jefferson medical physicists and radiation oncologists image and map out a course of treatment in real-time and then administer the radiation to the tumor from an adjacent "control room," with audio and visual.

This "all-in-one" approach makes for a quicker treatment process, and ensures safe and quality care by verifying the placement of the applicator immediately prior to treatment.  

Most importantly, it makes it easier on the patient, said Laura Doyle, M.S., Director of Brachytherapy at Jefferson.  "It's more comfortable and less cumbersome for the patient to not have to travel from one room to another," said Doyle. "And it offers them a treatment option that is much shorter and much more targeted than conventional radiation treatment or previous high-dose brachytherapy procedure. In many cases, it can be performed on an outpatient basis."

"The suite provides us with a more efficient treatment system overall," she added.

Jefferson's brachytherapy suite is used to treat a variety of cancers, including gynecological, breast and prostate. So far, about 15 treatments have been delivered in the new suite, which is equipped with Nucletron's microSelectron Digital Afterloader for treatment and a Simulix simulator for imaging.

The room is also operating-room (OR) capable with surgical lighting and a scrub sink. The state-of-the-art suite allows procedures to be performed under general anesthesia to place any necessary implant applicators for gynecological cancers, for example, and needle insertions for prostate brachytherapy.

Jefferson also wanted to ensure it was a relaxing setting. "It's peaceful," said Doyle. "It has a skylight image of a sunny day centered on the ceiling and customizable music for patients to enjoy."

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy where radioactive sources are placed inside the tumor, allowing for higher doses of radiation over a very short distance while sparing normal, healthy tissue. It has many advantages over traditional surgical techniques, such as eliminating the need for prolonged hospitalization, offering greater patient comfort during treatment, delivering treatment in minutes, not days or weeks, and minimal recovery time.

"We continuously look to provide our patients with the best treatment options available today that allow for growth in the future," said Adam P. Dicker, M.D., Ph.D., professor and chairman of the Department of Radiation Oncology at Jefferson. "This new suite marks another step forward in improving patient care for the people of the Philadelphia region and beyond."  

In prostate cancer, the highest cure rates are achieved with brachytherapy as a portion of the treatment, according to research that was validated by a Jefferson radiation oncology team examining national databases of health care.  

High-dose rate brachytherapy is administered in the suite, but other brachytherapy treatment options at Jefferson include:

  • Permanent – tiny radioactive seeds, the size of a grain of rice, are placed into the tumor. The seeds give off low levels of radiation for a few months, killing the cancer cells. This is commonly used in prostate cancer.
  • LDR (low-dose rate) – commonly used to treat prostate and lung cancer. Small radioactive seeds (about the size of a grain of rice) are inserted into the tumor. The seeds are left inside the tumor and give out low levels of radiation for a few months, which kills the cancer.

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