What is APBI?
Accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) is a type of radiation therapy that is often used after breast cancer surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and help prevent a recurrence. The aim it to treat only the breast tissue surrounding the area that was removed during surgery with a high dose of radiation. The rest of the healthy breast tissue, lungs and heart receives much less radiation than other breast radiotherapy techniques. This means you should experience fewer side effects and that your oncologist can use a higher dose of radiation to confidently destroy the remaining cancer cells.
APBI can be delivered using external beam radiation therapy, where a machine delivers radiation from outside your body, or brachytherapy, which involves placing a tiny amount of radioactive material into your breast.
Cancer treatment and care is constantly evolving and this is one of many evidence-based treatments from around the world that we have adopted which has been shown to benefit patients. As well as clinical benefits, APBI can be delivered in as few as five to ten days, so you can focus on doing the things you love, while we focus on treating your cancer.
How does APBI work?
APBI may be suitable for you if you have early stage breast cancer where preserving your healthy breast tissue is a priority.
For brachytherapy APBI, it is often delivered using a catheter. At the time of surgery, your surgeon will insert one or more small plastic tubes called a catheter into the space from which your tumor was excised (the cavity). Small, sealed radioactive pellets will be delivered through the catheter to deliver radiation. The pellets stop at multiple places within the cavity (and a small margin around the cavity) to ensure that the entire target site receives radiation. A highly targeted dose of radiation can be delivered in less than 10 minutes. You’ll need to have two 10-minute sessions a day, for five consecutive days. After each session, your physician will remove the catheters and you can go home.
Since the radiation does not pass through healthy tissue to treat the tumor, it is extremely precise and enables your radiation oncologist to target the radiation directly at the tumor site with less risk of damage to surrounding healthy tissue. In some cases, it may be possible to go home and travel to the office for the treatment. Your oncologist will be able to provide guidance on whether you can be treated as an outpatient.
Radiation is delivered using a machine called a linear accelerator, or linac, in five to 10 daily sessions. The linac can precisely shape the radiation beams around the target area as it follows the pattern and instructions that your radiation therapy team have planned. Our latest-generation systems deliver highly targeted radiotherapy, and our expert radiation therapy teams use advanced computer technology to create your personalized treatment plan. Treatment is delivered via IMRT or VMAT with IGRT enabling a high degree of targeting.
Side effects of APBI
The most common short-term side effect is mild skin irritation. Some people find their breast tissue becomes thicker or tender over time. Your radiation oncologist can give you more advice about what you’re likely to experience.