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Aetna Aetna
Clinical Policy Bulletin:
Number: 0371


  1. Aetna considers brachytherapy (also known as interstitial radiation, intracavitary radiation, internal radiation therapy) medically necessary for the following conditions:

    1. Brain tumors; and
    2. Breast cancer (such as the MammoSite Radiation Therapy System (Proxima Therapeutics, Alpharetta, GA)); and
    3. Eye tumors (e.g., choroidal melanoma); and
    4. Genitourinary cancers (including bladder cancer, cervical cancer, endometrial cancer, penile cancer, prostate cancer, urethral cancer, vaginal cancer); and
    5. Head and neck cancers (including buccal mucosa cancer, esophageal cancer, lip cancer, mouth cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, salivary gland cancer, soft palate cancer, tonsillar fossa/pillar cancer); and
    6. Respiratory and digestive tract cancers (including lung cancer, pelvic recurrence of colorectal cancer, pleural mesotheliomas, rectal (anal) cancer); and
    7. Soft tissue sarcomas; and
    8. Stenotic obstruction post lung transplantation refractory to other treatments such as balloon dilation, laser debridement, or stent placement.
  2. Aetna considers brachytherapy experimental and investigational for all other indications (e.g., thyroid cancer, subfoveal choroidal neovascularization secondary to age-related macular degeneration) because its effectiveness for indications other than the ones listed above has not been established.

  3. Aetna considers electronic brachytherapy experimental and investigational for breast cancer and all other indications (e.g., non-melanoma skin cancer) because its effectiveness has not been established.

  4. Aetna considers endovascular brachytherapy to reduce re-stenosis following percutaneous femoropopliteal angioplasty experimental and investigational because its effectiveness has not been established.

  5. The combination of brachytherapy and external beam radiation therapy (ProstRcision) has not been proven to be more effective than other established alternatives for the treatment of prostate cancer.


Brachytherapy may be used in conjunction with surgery.  Tumors close to critical structures that can not be resected with adequate surgical margins may also be treated by interstitial brachytherapy.

Brachytherapy may be used either alone or in combination with external beam radiation.

See also CPB 0491 - Coronary Artery Brachytherapy and Other Adjuncts to Coronary Interventions.


Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy in which the radiation device is placed within or close to the target site, in contrast to teletherapy which uses a device removed from the patient.  In general, any solid tumor that is sufficiently localized may be treated by interstitial brachytherapy.  A variety of radioactive isotopes are employed in brachytherapy including lower energy sources usually for permanent implantation such as Palladium-103 and Iodine-125, as well as higher energy sources such as Iridium-192, Gold-198, and Cesium-137, which, except for Gold-198, are used for limited periods of time via after loading catheters.

Traditionally, brachytherapy has been employed in the treatment of gynecologic tumors (uterine cervix and endometrium) employing Radium-226 (Ra-226), Cobalt-60 (Co-60), and Cesium-137 (Cs-137).  Similarly, therapy of oropharyngeal tumors may require interstitial brachytherapy, such as radium needles, Cs-137 or Iridium-192 (Ir-192) in selected carcinomas of the lip, nasal vestibule or floor of mouth lesions, radium in oral tongue cancers, Gold-198 (Au-198) seeds or Ir-192 ribbons or catheters for base of tongue lesions (3) or tonsillar malignancies (radon or gold seeds).  In pelvic recurrences of colorectal tumors or in anal or bile duct cancers, interstitial Ir-192 or Iodine-125 (I-125) boosts may be combined with external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).  In superficial bladder tumors, penile cancers and small tumors of the female urethra, interstitial implantation with Ra-226, Cs-137 or Ir-192 may be necessary.

Interstitial brachytherapy is indicated for stages A2 and B prostatic cancer and for malignant brain tumors.  A variety of other tumors have been treated by this technique, including ophthalmic malignancies of the choroid or retina, hepatocellular carcinomas, unresectable esophageal cancers, pulmonary malignancies, as well as an adjunct to surgical treatment of neoplasms in varying anatomic locations, when tumors attached or adjacent to critical structures can not be completely excised or resected with adequate surgical margins.

The MammoSite Radiation Therapy System (Proxima Therapeutics, Alpharetta, GA) is an alternative to interstitial brachytherapy with either seeds or needles to treat the intact breast lumpectomy site.  With the MammoSite technique, the lumpectomy cavity is dilated by a balloon and a single high-dose radiation source is positioned within the central portion of the balloon to deliver a uniform dose to the walls of the lumpectomy cavity.  Although the MammoSite technique may offer a more uniform dose distribution over older techniques of interstitial brachytherapy implants, it has not been shown to offer any appreciable improvement in dosimetry over conventional external beam radiation.  The primary justification for breast brachytherapy is a lack of patient compliance with conventional post-operative external beam radiotherapy.  The MammoSite offers the convenience of a short course of treatment, usually 10 high-dose radiation applications done twice-daily over 5 days.  By contrast, external beam radiotherapy usually requires 5 to 7 weeks of treatment post-operatively.  Another system that has been cleared by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for interstitial breast brachytherapy is the MammoTest Breast Biopsy System (Fischer Imaging Corporation, Denver, CO).

Electronic brachytherapy (EBT) has been developed to offer advantages over standard radioactive brachytherapy in the areas of radiation safety both to the patient as well as the personnel administering the treatment.  The Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System uses disposable miniature X-ray radiation sources to deliver electronically generated ionizing radiation directly to tumor beds.  Electronic brachytherapy is intended to minimize exposure of the patient's healthy tissue to unnecessary radiation.  Electronic brachytherapy uses X-ray energy to allow more flexibility than radioisotope-based brachytherapy systems that are currently in use.  Electronic brachytherapy does not require a heavily shielded environment, so that it has potential for use in a broad array of clinical settings.  The Axxent Electronic Brachytherapy System was cleared for use in breast cancer by the FDA based on a 510(k) application.  Electronic brachytherapy has potential for use in administering high-dose rate brachytherapy for breast cancer (BCBSA, 2007; CTAF, 2006).  However, there is insufficient evidence in the peer-reviewed published medical literature comparing outcomes of EBT with standard radioisotope-based brachytherapy.

In an observational, non-randomized, multi-center study, Beitsch et al (2010) evaluated EBT as a post-surgical adjuvant radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer.  This study included women aged 50 years or more with invasive carcinoma or ductal carcinoma in situ, tumor size less than or equal to 3 cm, negative lymph node status, and negative surgical margins.  The end points were skin and subcutaneous toxicities, efficacy outcomes, cosmetic outcomes, and device performance.  In this interim report, 1-month, 6-month, and 1-year follow-up data were available on 68, 59, and 37 patients, respectively.  The EBT device performed consistently, delivering the prescribed 34 Gy to all 69 patients (10 fractions/patient).  Most adverse events were grade 1 and included firmness, erythema, breast tenderness, hyper-pigmentation, pruritis, field contracture, seroma, rash/desquamation, palpable mass, breast edema, hypo-pigmentation, telangiectasia, and blistering, which were anticipated. Breast infection occurred in 2 (2.9 %) patients.  No tumor recurrences were reported.  Cosmetic outcomes were excellent or good in 83.9 % to 100 % of evaluable patients at 1 month, 6 months, and 1 year.  The authors concluded that this observational, non-randomized, multi-center study demonstrated that this EBT device was reliable and well-tolerated as an adjuvant radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer.  These findings are limited by the length of follow-up, and longer follow-up data are needed.

Ahmad et al (2010) compared treatment plans for patients treated with EBT using the Axxent System as adjuvant therapy for early stage breast cancer with treatment plans prepared from the same CT image sets using an Ir-192 source.  Patients were implanted with an appropriately sized Axxent balloon applicator based on tumor cavity size and shape.  A CT image of the implanted balloon was utilized for developing both EBT and Ir-192 brachytherapy treatment plans.  The prescription dose was 3.4 Gy per fraction for 10 fractions to be delivered to 1 cm beyond the balloon surface.  Iridium plans were provided by the sites on 35 of the 44 patients enrolled in the study.  The planning target volume coverage was very similar when comparing sources for each patient as well as between patients.  There were no statistical differences in mean % V100.  The percent of the planning target volume in the high-dose region was increased with EBT as compared with Iridium (p < 0.001).  The mean maximum calculated skin and rib doses did not vary greatly between EBT and Iridium.  By contrast, the doses to the ipsilateral lung and the heart were significantly lower with eBx as compared with Iridium (p < 0.0001).  The total nominal dwell times required for treatment can be predicted by using a combination of the balloon fill volume and planned treatment volume (PTV).  This dosimetric comparison of EBT and Iridium sources demonstrated that both forms of balloon-based brachytherapy provide comparable dose to the planning target volume.  The authors concluded that EBT is significantly associated with increased dose at the surface of the balloon and decreased dose outside the PTV, resulting in significantly increased tissue sparing in the heart and ipsilateral lung.  This was a dosimetric comparison study with no clinical data on health outcomes.

Njeh and colleagues (2010) noted that breast conservation therapy (BCT) is the procedure of choice for the management of the early stage breast cancer.  However, its utilization has not been maximized because of logistics issues associated with the protracted treatment involved with the radiation treatment.  Accelerated partial breast irradiation (APBI) is an approach that treats only the lumpectomy bed plus a 1 to 2 cm margin, rather than the whole breast.  Hence, because of the small volume of irradiation, a higher dose can be delivered in a shorter period of time.  There has been growing interest for APBI and various approaches have been developed under phase I to III clinical studies; these include multi-catheter interstitial brachytherapy, balloon catheter brachytherapy, conformal external beam radiation therapy and intra-operative radiation therapy (IORT).  Balloon-based brachytherapy approaches include Mammosite, Axxent EBT and Contura, hybrid brachytherapy devices include SAVI and ClearPath.  The authors reviewed the different techniques, identifying the weaknesses and strength of each approach and proposed a direction for future research and development.  It is evident that APBI will play a role in the management of a selected group of early breast cancer.  However, the relative role of the different techniques is yet to be clearly identified.

Ivanov et al (2011) reported 1-year results and clinical outcomes of a trial that utilizes EBT to deliver IORT for patients with early-stage breast cancer.  A total of 11 patients were enrolled on an institutional review board (IRB)-approved protocol. Inclusion criteria were patient age greater than 45 years, unifocal tumors with infiltrating ductal or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) histology, tumors less than or equal to 3 cm, and uninvolved lymph nodes.  Preloaded radiation plans were used to deliver radiation prescription dose of 20 Gy to the balloon surface.  The mean time for radiation delivery was 22 mins; the total mean procedure time was 1 hr 39 mins.  All margins of excision were negative on final pathology.  At mean follow-up of 12 months, overall cosmesis was excellent in 10 of 11 patients.  No infection, fat necrosis, desquamation, rib fracture or cancer recurrence has been observed.  There was no evidence of fibrosis at last follow-up.  The authors concluded that IORT utilizing EBT is emerging as a feasible, well-tolerated alternative to post-surgical APBI.  They stated that further research and longer follow-up data on EBT and other IORT methods are needed to establish the clinical efficacy and safety of this treatment.

Bhatnagar and Loper (2010) reported their initial experience of EBT for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer.  Data were collected retrospectively from patients treated from July 2009 through March 2010.  Pre-treatment biopsy was performed to confirm a malignant cutaneous diagnosis.  A CT scan was performed to assess lesion depth for treatment planning, and an appropriate size of surface applicator was selected to provide an acceptable margin.  An HDR EBT system delivered a dose of 40.0 Gy in 8 fractions twice-weekly with 48 hours between fractions, prescribed to a depth of 3 to 7 mm.  Treatment feasibility, acute safety, efficacy outcomes, and cosmetic results were assessed.  A total of 37 patients (mean age of 72.5 years) with 44 cutaneous malignancies were treated.  Of 44 lesions treated, 39 (89 %) were T1, 1 (2 %) Tis, 1 (2 %) T2, and 3 (7 %) lesions were recurrent.  Lesion locations included the nose for 16 lesions (36.4 %), ear 5 (11 %), scalp 5 (11 %), face 14 (32 %), and an extremity for 4 (9 %).  Median follow-up was 4.1 months.  No severe toxicities occurred.  Cosmesis ratings were good to excellent for 100 % of the lesions at follow-up.  The authors concluded that the early outcomes of EBT for the treatment of non-melanoma skin cancer appear to show acceptable acute safety and favorable cosmetic outcomes.  They stated that long-term follow-up is in progress to further assess efficacy and cosmesis.

In a multi-center clinical study, Dickler et al (2010) evaluated the success of treatment delivery, safety and toxicity of EBT in patients with endometrial cancer.  A total of 15 patients with stage I or II endometrial cancer were enrolled at 5 sites.  Patients were treated with vaginal EBT alone or in combination with external beam radiation.  The prescribed doses of EBT were successfully delivered in all 15 patients.  From the first fraction through 3 months follow-up, there were 4 common toxicity criteria (CTC) grade 1 adverse events and 2 CTC grade II adverse events reported that were EBT-related.  The mild events reported were dysuria, vaginal dryness, mucosal atrophy, and rectal bleeding.  The moderate treatment related adverse events included dysuria, and vaginal pain.  No grade III or IV adverse events were reported.  The EBT system performed well and was associated with limited acute toxicities.  The authors concluded that EBT shows acute results similar to HDR brachytherapy.  They stated that additional research is needed to further assess the clinical efficacy and safety of EBT in the treatment of endometrial cancer.

The American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ASTRO) Emerging Technology Committee's report on EBT (Park et al, 2010) stated that "advantages of EBT over existing technologies are as yet unproven in terms of efficacy or patient outcomes".  The report explains the impact of clinical use of electronic brachytherapy could be far-reaching, and if used improperly, potentially harmful to patients.  The report explains that electronic brachytherapy is currently an unregulated treatment delivery modality for cancer therapy, with minimal clinical data available from small single institution, studies, none with significant follow-up.  It also noted that there are currently no accepted calibration standards for EBT.  Thus, there can be large uncertainties associated with absorbed dose measurement at low energies.  Furthermore, the report stated that the effects of EBT on tumor and normal tissues are not yet well understood, given the paucity of clinical studies.

Published data on electronic brachytherapy comes from studies which are small, mostly single center studies with limited follow-up.  Much of this evidence is from low-quality retrospective studies.  Other evidence comes from dosimetric planning studies rather than studies reporting actual clinical outcomes.  The TARGET-A study is an exception in that it is a large, multi-center prospective study (Vaidya et al, 2011).  This study, however, did not employ direct comparisons between electronic brachytherapy and established methods of high-dose rate brachytherapy using radioactive isotopes.

Avila and colleagues (2009) assessed the short-term safety and feasibility of epiretinal strontium-90 brachytherapy delivered concomitantly with intra-vitreal bevacizumab for the treatment of subfoveal choroidal neovascularization (CNV) due to age-related macular degeneration (AMD) for 12 months.  A 3-year follow-up is planned.  In this prospective, non-randomized, multi-center study, 34 treatment-naïve patients with predominantly classic, minimally classic and occult subfoveal CNV lesions received a single treatment with 24 Gy beta radiation (strontium-90) and 2 injections of the anti-vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) antibody bevacizumab.  Adverse events were observed.  Best corrected visual acuity (BCVA) was measured using standard Early Treatment Diabetic Retinopathy Study (ETDRS) vision charts.  Twelve months after treatment, no radiation-associated adverse events were observed.  In the intent-to-treat (ITT) population, 91 % of patients lost less than 3 lines (15 ETDRS letters) of vision at 12 months, 68 % improved or maintained their BCVA at 12 months, and 38 % gained greater than or equal to 3 lines.  The mean change in BCVA observed at month 12 was a gain of 8.9 letters.  The authors concluded that the safety and effectiveness of intra-ocular, epiretinal brachytherapy delivered concomitantly with anti-VEGF therapy for the treatment of subfoveal CNV secondary to AMD were promising in this small study population.  They stated that long-term safety will be assessed for 3 years.  This regimen is being evaluated in a large, multi-center, phase III study.

Ashida and Chang (2009) stated that since the curved linear array echo-endoscope (linear EUS) was developed in the 1990s, EUS has evolved from EUS imaging, to EUS-guided fine needle aspiration (FNA), and now to EUS-guided fine needle injection, giving EUS even wider application.  This advancement has brought "interventional EUS" into the pancreato-biliary field.  Interventional EUS for pancreatic cancer includes delivery of contrast agents, drainage/anastomosis, celiac neurolysis (including ganglion neorolysis), radiofrequency ablation, photodynamic therapy, brachytherapy, as well as delivery of a growing number of anti-tumor agents.  Al-Haddad and Eloubeidi (2010) noted that coupled with FNA, EUS provides high accuracy for the diagnosis and staging of pancreatic cancer.  Novel EUS-based techniques have emerged as a safe minimally invasive alternative to the surgical or radiological approaches.  By allowing better pain control, delivering anti-tumor therapies or draining obstructed bile ducts, such techniques hold a big promise to improve the quality of life of patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer.

Mitchell et al (2012) noted that re-stenosis is a fundamental weakness of percutaneous femoropopliteal angioplasty (PTA).  The potential of endovascular brachytherapy (EVBT) to reduce re-stenosis has been evaluated in randomized clinical trials (RCTs), but no pooled analysis has been undertaken.  These investigators performed a systematic review to identify RCTs in which PTA alone was compared to PTA plus EVBT.  The Pubmed and Medline databases, American Heart Association OASIS database and conference proceedings from the Peripheral Vascular Surgery Society and Vascular Society of Great Britain and Ireland were searched.  Eligible studies were RCTs comparing PTA to PTA plus EVBT in human subjects with at least 1 clinical outcome reported (re-stenosis, complications, patency).  Study quality was assessed by the Jadad score.  Random-effects modeling was used to generate pooled effect size estimates.  A total of 6 trials (687 patients) were identified.  Endovascular brachytherapy reduced 12-month re-stenosis rates (pooled odds ratio 0.50; 95 % confidence intervals [CI]: 0.301 to 0.836; p = 0.008).  The benefit disappeared by 24 months.  The short-term risk of new lesions elsewhere in the treated artery was significantly increased by EVBT (pooled odds ratio 8.65; 95 % CI: 2.176 to 34.391; p = 0.002).  The authors concluded that while limited by the small sample sizes in the included trials, this analysis suggests that the early benefit of EVBT is counter-balanced by the increased risk of new lesions and the lack of medium- to long-term reductions in re-stenosis risk.  Based upon the best available evidence, EVBT can not be recommended for routine clinical use.

The Alberta Health Services’ clinical guideline on “Penile cancer” (2012) listed brachytherapy as a management option for Tis, Ta N0 M0 (Stage 0); T1 N0 M0 (Stage I); as well as T2 N0 M0 (Stage II) and T3 N0 M0 (Early Stage III) penile cancers.

Brachytherapy is a constantly evolving field and the above recommendations are subject to modifications as new data become available.

CPT Codes / HCPCS Codes / ICD-9 Codes
CPT codes covered if selection criteria are met:
+ 19297
77326 - 77328
77761 - 77763
77776 - 77778
77785 - 77787
CPT codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:
Other CPT codes related to the CPB:
37224 Revascularization, endovascular, open or percutaneous, femoral, popliteal artery(s), unilateral; with transluminal angioplasty
HCPCS codes covered if selection criteria are met:
A9527 Iodine I-125, sodium iodide solution, therapeutic, per millicurie
C1715 Brachytherapy needle
C1716 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, gold-198, per source
C1717 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, high dose rate iridium-192, per source
C1719 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, non-high dose rate iridium-192, per source
C2616 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, yttrium-90, per source
C2634 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, high activity, iodine-125, greater than 1.01 mCi (NIST), per source
C2635 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, high activity palladium-103, greater than 2.2 mCi (NIST), per source
C2636 Brachytherapy linear source, non-stranded, paladium-103, per 1 mm
C2637 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, ytterbium-169, per source
C2638 Brachytherapy source, stranded, iodine-125, per source
C2639 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, iodine-125, per source
C2640 Brachytherapy source, stranded, palladium-103, per source
C2641 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, palladium-103, per source
C2642 Brachytherapy source, stranded, cesium-131, per source
C2643 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, cesium-131, per source
C2698 Brachytherapy source, stranded, not otherwise specified, per source
C2699 Brachytherapy source, non-stranded, not otherwise specified, per source
C9725 Placement of endorectal intracavitary applicator for high intensity brachytherapy
C9726 Placement and removal (if performed) of applicator into breast for radiation therapy
Q3001 Radioelements for brachytherapy, any type, each
Other HCPCS codes related to the CPB:
A4648 Tissue marker, implantable, any type, each
A4650 Implantable radiation dosimeter, each
ICD-9 codes covered if selection criteria are met:
996.84 Complications of transplanted lungs [stenotic obstruction post lung transplantation]
ICD-9 codes not covered for indications listed in the CPB:
193 Malignant neoplasm of thyroid gland
362.50 Macular degeneration (senile), unspecified
362.51 Nonexudative senile macular degeneration
362.52 Exudative senile macular degeneration
Other ICD-9 codes related to the CPB:
140.0 - 238.9 Neoplasms
V42.6 Lung replaced by transplant
V58.0 Encounter for radiotherapy

The above policy is based on the following references:
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