What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a procedure that involves placing radioactive material inside your body. It is one type of radiation therapy that’s used to treat cancer. The procedure is sometimes called internal radiation that allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body, compared with the conventional form of radiation therapy.

Brachytherapy projects radiation from a machine outside of your body.
It may cause fewer side effects and the overall treatment time is usually shorter with brachytherapy.

Different types of Brachytherapy

There are three types of brachytherapy:

Low-dose rate (LDR) implants:

In this type of brachytherapy, the radiation source stays in place for 1 to 7 days. You are likely to be in the hospital during this time. Once your treatment is finished, your doctor will remove the radiation source and the catheter or applicator.

High-dose rate (HDR) implants:

In this type of brachytherapy, the radiation source is left in place for just 10 to 20 minutes at a time and then taken out. You may have treatment twice a day for 2 to 5 days or once a week for 2 to 5 weeks. The schedule depends on your type of cancer. During the course of treatment, your catheter or applicator may stay in place, or it may be put in place before each treatment. You may be in the hospital during this time, or you may make daily trips to the hospital to have the radiation source put in place. As with LDR implants, your doctor will remove the catheter or applicator once you have finished treatment.

Permanent implants:

After the radiation source is put in place, the catheter is removed. The implants remain in your body for the rest of your life, but the radiation gets weaker each day. As time goes on, almost all the radiation will go away. When the radiation is first put in place, you may need to limit your time around other people and take other safety measures. Be extra careful not to spend time with children or pregnant women.

What’s the difference between internal radiation and external radiation?

Another name for brachytherapy is internal radiation therapy. Cancer doctors place radioactive materials inside the body to destroy the tumor from within. The entire treatment takes place internally.

In contrast, with external radiation therapy, a machine delivers beams of radiation energy through the skin to the tumor. External radiation has a slightly higher chance of radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue and organs. For some cancers, external radiation is the only possible treatment.

Prostate brachytherapy

You might have brachytherapy for prostate cancer. This means a radioactive source is put inside the prostate. The radioactive source releases radiation to destroy the prostate cancer cells.
The source, also known as radioactive seeds, might stay inside your prostate permanently (low dose rate brachytherapy). The radiation is gradually released over a number of months.

Or you might have a higher dose of radiation, where the radioactive source stays inside the prostate for about 15 to 40 minutes (high dose rate brachytherapy). Your radiographers then remove the source and so you have no radiation left inside your body.

Brachytherapy is used to treat several types of cancer, including:

  • Bile duct cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cervical cancer
  • Endometrial cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Eye cancer
  • Soft tissue cancers
  • Head and neck cancers
  • Lung cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Rectal cancer
  • Skin cancer
  • Vaginal cancer