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What is Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy?

Brachytherapy and plesiotherapy are methods of delivering radiation therapy to treat cancerous tumors in horses. Radiation works by disrupting DNA in affected cells. In cancerous cells, disruption of the DNA prevents cancerous growths from multiplying and results in the cancer tissues being unable to spread. However, radiation also disrupts the DNA of the body's healthy cells, therefore resulting in damage to normal body tissue. Brachytherapy and plesiotherapy deliver radiation to cancer cells in a highly localized way, thereby, minimizing damage to your horse’s healthy tissues. Brachytherapy is the delivery of radiation immediately adjacent to or within the tumor itself, referred to as interstitial. This is performed by implanting radioactive “seeds” directly into the cancerous tissue. The dosage released is low, however because it is left in place, the cumulative radiation directed at the cancerous growth is high, while minimizing the exposure to tissues not immediately adjacent to the implanted radiation. 

Plesiotherapy is the application of beta radiation therapy on the surface of a tumor; sometimes it is called surface brachytherapy. It also accomplishes delivery of radiation specific to the cancerous cells while minimizing the effect on healthy tissues. Brachytherapy and plesiotherapy may be used alone or in conjunction with other cancer therapies or surgeries. These procedures require administration by a veterinarian under controlled circumstances as radiation must be carefully handled and contained so as not to cause unwanted contamination. Sedation or general anesthesia is often used to prevent movement of the horse during the therapy which would result in exposure to radiation by non-target tissues.

Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy Procedure in Horses

For brachytherapy, sedation and local anesthetic may be used, or general anesthesia if required to immobilize a non-cooperative horse, or if the horse is undergoing surgery to address cancerous tissue simultaneous to the implantation of a radiation “seed”. Precautions must be taken by humans involved in delivering interstitial radioactive seeds to ensure they are not contaminated with radioactive materials. Once your horse is sedated or anaesthetized, a seed with iridium 192 is implanted into the tumor or surrounding tissue using a nylon catheter to deliver the implant using long handled forceps. Seeds may be placed temporarily or permanently. Seeds deliver radiation for one to two weeks. Although the emitted dose is low, it is delivered directly over a long period resulting in a large localized dose. 

Permanent seeds are left in place and the radiation decays over time. Temporary implants are removed after the prescribed dosage has been released.

Plesiotherapy uses strontium 90, and is administered in an ophthalmic applicator or hand held beta emitting device. It can treat an area of 5 to 8mm and penetrates 3mm deep, making it appropriate for surface lesions. Treatment of each area takes 10 to 15 minutes. A larger area can be treated by multiple contiguous treatments to cover the required area. Because treatment requires that your horse does not move during administration, they may be given heavy sedation or general anesthetic in order to deliver this form of radiation therapy.



Efficacy of Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy in Horses

Brachytherapy and plesiotherapy have been used successfully to treat sarcoids and squamous cell carcinomas. Smaller tumors are more successfully treated and surgical removal of cancerous tissue may be performed in conjunction with radiation treatment. Due to the danger from exposure with interstitial implants, few veterinary hospitals still administer this form of treatment. 

Plesiotherapy is highly effective for treating small surface tumors and is also often used in conjunction with surgical tumor removal.

Dosage and location treated are critical to the effectiveness of the treatment.



Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy Recovery in Horses

If implants are used, the horse will be confined and isolated during the implantation period with limited human contact to lessen the chances of radioactive exposure to handlers. Precautions to ensure that the horse does not interfere with the implant or implant site will be taken to minimize the likelihood of the implant becoming dislodged. For plesiotherapy, precautions to ensure that your horse does not interfere with the treatment site post treatment should also be taken. 



Cost of Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy in Horses

The cost of radiation treatment for cancerous tumors in your horse ranges from $2,000 to $6,000 depending on the area requiring treatment. Travel expenses to a facility equipped to perform this procedure are a factor.



Horse Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy Considerations

Exposure to radioactive materials for handlers and personnel during the procedure is an issue and precautions to limit exposure must be taken. In addition, radioactive implants can become dislodged, causing contamination of the housing area and risk to the horse and others. Because of these risks, many veterinary universities and hospitals do not offer this treatment and it is not legal for use on equines in many states. 

If treatment is occurring around an eye it will require special precautions to shield the eye tissue during plesiotherapy. 



Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy Prevention in Horses

Regular veterinary treatment and routine examination of your horse's skin during grooming will help to discover abnormal skin growths at an early stage when treatment options are varied and successful treatment is more likely.



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Brachytherapy and Plesiotherapy Questions and Advice from Veterinary Professionals

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Quarter Horse


7 Years


Serious severity


0 found helpful


Serious severity

Has Symptoms

Sarcoid Near Her Eye

where is the closest location to Akron Ohio that does Brachytherapy? need this to treat a sarcoid that is not responding to radiation, cisplatin or FU5. I am just looking for a location who does this procedure

May 9, 2018

candy's Owner



0 Recommendations

I’m not familiar with facilities around Ohio, but I would recommend contacting Ohio State University Veterinary Medical Center for assistance. Regards Dr Callum Turner DVM https://vet.osu.edu/vmc/

May 10, 2018

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