What is brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is radiation treatment that is given inside the patient, as close to the cancer as possible. The radiation is delivered inside the body with radioactive isotopes (chemical elements), inside delivery devices such as wires, seeds, or rods. These devices are called implants.

Brachytherapy allows for a higher total dose of radiation over a shorter period of time than does external beam therapy. The radiation dose is concentrated on the cancer cells and less damage is done to the normal cells near the cancerous growth.

Brachytherapy may be performed in combination with external beam therapy to help destroy the main mass of tumor cells for certain types of cancer.

Brachytherapy is often used in the treatment of cervical, uterine, vaginal, prostate, or rectal cancer, as well as eye and certain head and neck cancers. However, the therapy may also used to treat many other cancers.

How does brachytherapy work?

There are three types of brachytherapy delivery:

Brachytherapy implant placement may be one of two types:

General anesthesia may be used during the insertion of implants, depending on the size and number of implants, as well as the location of the insertion site.

Generally, a person having brachytherapy will be treated on an inpatient basis, in order to protect others from the effects of the radiation while it is active inside the person's body. Although each facility may have specific protocols in place for the treatment of patients undergoing brachytherapy, generally, treatment protocols may include the following:

How long does the radiation last?

How long the radiation lasts will depend on the type of treatment given. The doctor will determine the brachytherapy type based on the type of cancer being treated, the location of the cancer, and other considerations. If the brachytherapy implant is a low-dose implant, the implant may be left in for several days. High-dose implants may be removed after only a few minutes.

Some implants are permanent and will be left in place. After placement of a permanent implant, a hospital stay of a few days may be required, depending on the dose of radiation and the location of the implant. The radiation becomes weaker each day, and the patient will mostly likely be discharged from the hospital in a few days. There may be certain safety measures to be taken at home. The doctor will give specific instructions if necessary.

Temporary implants will be removed after the complete dose of radiation has been received.

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