Brachytherapy and SABT for Lung Cancer

Brachytherapy and stereotactic ablative brachytherapy (SABT) are 2 types of radiation therapy used to treat lung cancer. Radiation therapy aims high-energy rays at cancer cells to destroy them.1,2

Brachytherapy is often used to treat early-stage lung cancer. SABT is a newer type of brachytherapy that might be useful for some people with lung cancer who cannot have surgery to remove their cancer.1,2

What is brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy. This means that it uses radioactive implants instead of an external radiation beam to deliver radiation directly to a tumor. The implants are placed inside the body, close to the tumor.1

There are 2 main types of brachytherapy:1

  1. Low-dose rate (LDR) – With this type, the implant gives off low-dose radiation over a longer period, up to a few days at a time.
  2. High-dose rate (HDR) – This type allows for high doses of radiation to be delivered in a short period. This can occur twice a day over several days or daily over a few weeks.

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What is SABT?

SABT is a type of high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy. The radiation source is placed inside the body rather than delivered from an external machine, like in traditional radiation therapy.2

Stereotactic refers to the precise targeting of the radiation beams to a specific area. Ablative means that the radiation is delivered in a high dose intended to destroy the cancer cells.3,4

Radioactive sources are placed directly into the tumor

In SABT, tiny radioactive sources are placed directly into the tumor. Doctors use special tools that help them put the radioactive sources in the right place. They do this by looking at imaging, like computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). These pictures show them where the tumor is so they can aim the radiation where it needs to go.2

A radiation dose is sent straight to the tumor

After placement, the sources send a strong radiation dose straight to the tumor. This helps to destroy the cancer cells while minimizing harm to healthy parts.2

SABT: A possible alternative to surgery

SABT may be an alternative to surgery when surgery is too risky or invasive. SABT also can be combined with other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy, to improve outcomes for certain types of cancer.2

When are brachytherapy and SABT used?

Brachytherapy and SABT may be used to treat various lung cancers. These are also used when surgery may not be an option, or to shrink a tumor before surgery.1,5

How are these therapies given?

Brachytherapy and SABT are done in an outpatient setting or the hospital. You may need to stay in the hospital after the procedure. Talk to your doctor about how the therapy will be performed.1,2,5

What are the side effects of brachytherapy and SABT?

Like all medical treatments, brachytherapy and SABT can have side effects. These vary depending on the specific type of treatment, the location of the tumor, and other factors. Common side effects include:6

  • Skin irritation – In some cases, the skin around the area where the radioactive sources are placed may become red, swollen, or irritated.
  • Fatigue – Feeling tired or worn out is common and may affect daily activities.
  • Nausea and vomiting – These can happen especially when radiation is delivered to the abdomen or pelvis.
  • Difficulty breathing – In rare cases, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing may occur.
  • More serious risks of brachytherapy and SABT vary depending on the type of treatment and the tumor’s location.


    Because the radiation is targeted to the cancer, risks are greatly reduced. The most common risks include:6

  • Bleeding
  • Infection
  • Damage to the heart, lungs, or other organs
  • In low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, your body may give off a small amount of radioactivity after therapy because the implant is left in place. With this treatment, people often have to stay overnight at the hospital and may have limited visitors.6

    Not everyone experiences side effects from radiation therapy. Sometimes, side effects are temporary and can be managed with medicines or lifestyle changes. Your doctor will work with you to develop a treatment plan that minimizes risk while effectively treating your cancer.6

    Are brachytherapy and SABT safe?

    Brachytherapy and SABT are safe and effective treatments for some lung cancers. But there are possible risks with these treatments. Talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of brachytherapy and SABT before deciding whether these treatments are right for you.1,2,5,6

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