Medical Breakthroughs: New Radiation Device

BACKGROUND: According to the National Institutes of Health, cervical cancer is the third most common type of cancer in women worldwide. It is less common in the United States because most American women have annual pap smears, which can detect early signs of the disease.

Since it became common practice, the pap smear, is credited for reducing the death rate from of cervical cancer by 70 percent. However, thousands of American women are still diagnosed with cervical cancer every year. According to the National Cancer Society, more than 13,000 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in the year 2002. Of those more than 4,000 died from this disease.

In the earliest stages of cervical cancer, there may not be any symptoms. Therefore, most cases of cervical cancer are diagnosed in the advanced stages.

When there are symptoms, the most common are:

  • Persistent vaginal discharge, which may be pale, watery, pink, brown, blood-streaked, or dark and foul-smelling

  • Abnormal vaginal bleeding, especially between menstrual periods, after intercourse or douching, and after menopause, which gradually becomes heavier and lasts longer

TREATMENT: The treatment of cervical cancer depends on the stage, size and shape of the tumor. The age and health of the cancer patient is also taken into consideration when planning treatment. In its earliest stages, cervical cancer can be treated by removing or destroying the pre-cancerous or cancerous tissue. This is done in different ways without removing the uterus or damaging the cervix. Therefore, patient may still be capable of having children.

There are also two forms of radiation treatment for cervical cancer. During external beam radiation therapy, high-energy x-rays are delivered to the body through a machine that directs the radiation at the body.

With internal, or implant radiation, small capsules of radioactive material are placed directly into the cervix. This type of therapy, also called brachytherapy, reduces radiation received by other organs. However, it also requires the patient to undergo surgery to place the radioactive material in the cervix. The material is then left in place for up to three days before removal. Patients must return in a couple of weeks and endure the procedure again to treat vaginal lesions.

With the new brachytherapy cervical cancer device developed by Aaron Wolfson, M.D., at the University of Miami, patients do not need to be hospitalized twice.

"Not only does this benefit the patient in terms of reducing hospital expenses, but it also cuts the length, of what can be a stressful or uncomfortable experience, in half," said Dr. Wolfson.


Xiaodong Wu, Ph.D.
Radiation Oncology
University of Miami
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
1475 NW 12th Avenue
Miami, FL 33136
(800) 545-2292

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