As part of the cancer care multidisciplinary team, our radiation oncologists coordinate every aspect of care with surgeons and pathologists to help decide the best course of treatment for each patient.
Radiation therapy uses high-energy particles or waves to destroy or damage cancer cells. Internal radiation therapy involves putting the source of radiation inside the body. Brachytherapy is one type of internal radiation therapy. In brachtherapy, instead of using radiation beams delivered by special equipment, radioactive material is placed directly into, or as close as possible to the cancer. This type of radiation travels a very short distance in the body (“brachy” is a Greek prefix for “short”.) The radioactive material is placed in this way in order to spare as many healthy cells as possible. The material itself may be left in the body for a short time, or permanently.
Three Types of Brachytherapy
Low Dose Rate (LDR) Implants
With LDR brachytherapy, the source of radiation stays in place for one to seven days. Most patients are hospitalized for the duration of this treatment. Once the treatment is completed, the physician removes the radiation sources and the catheter or applicator.
LDR brachytherapy is offered at:
High Dose Rate (HDR) Implants
During HDR brachytherapy, the radiation source is in place for 10 to 20 minutes periods and then taken out. HDR treatments may occur once or twice a day for two to five days or once a week for two to five weeks. The schedule depends on the 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. Some patients stay in the hospital during this time and others make daily trips to the hospital or physician’s office to have the radiation source placed. Like LDR implants, your doctor will remove your catheter or applicator once you have finished treatment.
Liquid forms of radiation are most often used with people who have thyroid cancer or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Some patients may receive internal radiation treatments along with other types of treatment, including external beam radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery.
After the radiation source is put in place, the catheter is removed. The implants always stay in your body, while the radiation gets weaker each day. You may need to limit you time around other people when the radiation is first put in place.
How Brachytherapy Works
Sealed radioactive substances are placed in body cavities or body tissue using a catheter – a small, stretchy tube. Sometimes, brachytherapy is put in place through a larger metal or plastic tube called an applicator.
During the treatment, the implants are placed in the body through the applicators. Some implants are permanent, while others are left in for a short period. The applicator may be removed at the same time as the implant, or it may be left in place until all the treatments are finished.
This procedure is carried out in a hospital operating room. Before the placement of the applicator(s), patients receive either general anesthesia (where you are asleep) or regional anestheisa (where part of your body is numbed). Applicators are placed either during surgery or by a doctor using an imaging test to view the intended location. If the applicators need to be held in place, stitches may be used.
What to Expect
The anesthesia used during the placement of the applicator may make some patients feel drowsy, weak, or nauseated, but these side effects do not last long. If your implants are held in place by an applicator, you may experience some discomfort. Ask for medicine to help you relax or to relieve pain if needed.
Benefits of Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy’s benefits include:
- Proven effectiveness in treating localized cancer.
- Low risk of major complications.
- Minor surgical procedure.
- Minimal loss of service (time off from work and return to normal activity).
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