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According to results recently presented at the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology (ASTRO), brachytherapy appears to improve survival in patients with early lung cancer that is considered inoperable.

Lung cancer remains the greatest cause of cancer-related deaths in the world. In fact, lung cancer kills more people annually in the US than breast, prostate, and colon cancers combined.

When lung cancer is detected prior to spread from its site of origin (early lung cancer), surgical removal is recommended. However, some lung cancers originate or spread locally and may attach or spread nearby to crucial structures in the lung (such as major blood vessels or breathing tubes). Because surgery cannot be performed on these structures, these patients are considered to have inoperable cancer and are generally regarded as incurable.

Brachytherapy involves the placement of small radioactive “seeds” at and near the site of cancer; it is used in various types of cancers. The seeds may be placed during surgery and will emit radioactivity for limited duration of time.

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Researchers from the Montefiore Medical Center in New York recently conducted a study to evaluate data involving patients diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer who were treated with brachytherapy. This study included 35 patients with lung cancer that had invaded major blood vessels or bone. Patients underwent surgery to partially remove their cancer and had brachytherapy seeds placed into the site of cancer at the time of surgery.

Brachytherapy was associated with impressive outcomes:

  • Survival at one year was nearly 88%.
  • 75% of patients had control of cancer at the site of origin at one year.
  • One year following the procedure, there were no serious side effects.

The researchers concluded that brachytherapy may improve survival in patients with inoperable lung cancer. Future trials are necessary to provide more confirmatory evidence regarding brachytherapy in lung cancer since it is not typically a standard treatment approach. Patients diagnosed with early, inoperable lung cancer may wish to speak with their physician regarding their individual risks and benefits of brachytherapy or the participation in a clinical trial evaluating novel therapeutic strategies. Sources of information regarding ongoing clinical trials include the National Cancer Institute (

Reference: Mutyala S, et al. Toxicity of permanent I-125 interstitial planar seed brachytherapy for close or positive margins for thoracic malignancies. Proceedings from the 47th annual meeting of the American Society of Therapeutic Radiation Oncology. Presented October 19, 2005. Denver, Colorado.