BACKGROUND: The literature supporting high-dose rate brachytherapy (HDR) in the treatment of cervical carcinoma derives primarily from retrospective series. However, controversy still persists regarding the efficacy and safety of HDR brachytherapy compared to low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, in particular, due to inadequate tumor coverage for stage III patients. Whether LDR or HDR brachytherapy produces better results for these patients in terms of survival rate, local control rate and the treatment complications remain controversial. METHODS: A meta-analysis of RCT was performed comparing LDR to HDR brachytherapy for cervix cancer treated for radiotherapy alone. The MEDLINE, EMBASE, CANCERLIT and Cochrane Library databases, as well as abstracts published in the annual proceedings were systematically searched. We assessed methodological quality for each outcome by grading the quality of evidence using the Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (GRADE) methodology. We used "recommend" for strong recommendations, and "suggest" for weak recommendations. RESULTS: Pooled results from five randomized trials (2,065 patients) of HDR brachytherapy in cervix cancer showed no significant increase of mortality (p = 0.52), local recurrence (p = 0.68), or late complications (rectal; p = 0.7, bladder; p = 0.95 or small intestine; p = 0.06) rates as compared to LDR brachytherapy. In the subgroup analysis no difference was observed for overall mortality and local recurrence in patients with clinical stages I, II and III. The quality of evidence was low for mortality and local recurrence in patients with clinical stage I, and moderate for other clinical stages. CONCLUSION: Our meta-analysis shows that there are no differences between HDR and LDR for overall survival, local recurrence and late complications for clinical stages I, II and III. By means of the GRADE system, we recommend the use of HDR for all clinical stages of cervix cancer.
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