What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is the use of radiation inside the body, as close as possible to the cancer cells. With brachytherapy, you can receive a higher total dose of radiation in a shorter time than is possible with external radiation therapy. Instead of using an external radiation machine, the radioactive material is sealed in a thin wire or a catheter (hollow tube) and implanted directly into the cancerous area. Implants can be temporary or permanent.

Brachytherapy concentrates the radiation on the cancer cells and lessens radiation damage to the normal tissue near the cancer.

When is brachytherapy used?

Brachytherapy is used when your doctor decides that the best way to treat your cancer is with a higher dose of radiation delivered inside your body. Brachytherapy may be used for many types of cancer, including brain tumors, breast cancer, gynecological cancer (e.g., cervical and ovarian), head and neck cancer and lung cancer.

How is the implant placed in the body?

Some implants are placed in the body during an outpatient procedure; others require general or local anesthesia and a hospital stay.

How long does brachytherapy take?

How long brachytherapy takes and whether it is done on an outpatient or inpatient basis depends upon the type of internal radiation therapy used and the nature of the cancer. Internal radiation therapy can be completed as quickly as three to five outpatient treatments of a few minutes each over several days. Some types of internal radiation therapy are left in place for up to a week and require a hospital stay during this period.

What side effects should I expect?

You probably will not have severe pain or feel ill during implant therapy. You may feel discomfort where the catheter is placed. If general anesthesia was used to implant the catheter, you may feel temporary drowsiness, weakness, or nausea. Ask for medicine to help you relax or to relieve pain. Also, report any burning, sweating, or other unusual symptoms to the nurse right away.

What happens after the temporary implant is removed?

The treated area may be sore or sensitive for some time after brachytherapy, but most patients can return to normal activities quickly. You may need extra sleep or rest while your body recovers from treatment.

What happens to the permanent implants?

Permanent implants can safely remain in place. Once the radiation is gone, the implant capsules become inactive and cause no harm.