We have shown you how brachytherapy radiation works for breast cancer and prostate cancer patients, but now the Avera Cancer Institute is the first in the region to offer it for skin cancer patients. Nancy Naeve Brown met a man from Brookings who opted for this type of specialized radiation therapy because surgery wasn't a viable option without having to include plastic surgery.
Leo Spinar from Brookings is fighting early stage invasive skin cancer on the top of his head and he's fighting it with brachytherapy radiation. For the last 20 years, Leo has been vigilant about seeing his Avera Dermatologist Dr. Brian Knutson who found the cancer. He removed two other spots but this third area was too big to remove without complications.
Leo says, "There isn't much stretch to the scalp that why this one, the big one, he was looking at other options."
That option is skin surface brachytherapy at the Avera Cancer Institute. It's one of the few places in the country to offer a dedicated brachytherapy radiation suite.
MedXray Radiation Oncologist at the Avera Cancer Institute Dr. Kathleen Schneekloth says, "The brachytherapy source gives off its radiation in a very localized manner to a small surface area so it's able to give a high dose of radiation to the tumor and very little to the surrounding normal tissues."
The radiation source is always stored in the remote after loader. It travels through the different catheters across an area laid out on the mask and then goes back into the remote after loader. The radiation source is never inside the brain.
Dr. Kathleen Schneekloth says, "It's fairly new (to offer brachytherapy for skin cancer), we have traditionally treated skin cancer with external beam radiation over the years and it provides very good local control. However, the treatment schedule is over 30 treatments with brachytherapy we are able to give fewer treatments over a shorter amount of time. It's much more convenient, much less disruptive to the patient."
This is Leo's 8th treatment out of 10 and he still reports no side effects.
Leo says, "I ask Dr. Schneekloth when she comes in when are you going to start doing something up there? I haven't felt anything at all. The biggest problem is that mask. It fits so snug."
He's not complaining. He'll gladly lie perfectly still for 10 minutes at a time over 10 treatments if it means he's cured of skin cancer. And that's exactly what his doctors say should happen by the time he's done.
Radiation oncologists wanted us to stress the importance of early detection. Had Leo not gone to his dermatologist regularly, they wouldn't have caught his skin cancer early enough for brachytherapy to be an option.