What is Brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy is a procedure that involves placing radioactive material inside your body.
Brachytherapy is one type of radiation therapy that’s used to treat cancer. Brachytherapy is sometimes called internal radiation.
Brachytherapy allows doctors to deliver higher doses of radiation to more-specific areas of the body, compared with the conventional form of radiation therapy (external beam radiation) that projects radiation from a machine outside of your body.
When is Brachytherapy needed?
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
- Head and neck cancers
- Lung cancer
- Pancreatic cancer
- Prostate cancer
- Rectal cancer
- Skin cancer
- Soft tissue cancers
- Vaginal cancer
Brachytherapy can be used alone or in conjunction with other cancer treatments. For instance, brachytherapy is sometimes used after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may remain. Brachytherapy can also be used along with external beam radiation.
What should you know before undergoing Brachytherapy?
Not everyone can safely undergo this procedure. Brachytherapy may be contraindicated in patients with:
- A history of severe urinary conditions such as recurrent urethral strictures
- Poor potential outcomes with surgery
- Overt seminal vesicle invasion
- A history of transurethral resection of the prostate or transurethral needle ablation of the prostate.
What are the complications and side effects?
Side effects of brachytherapy are specific to the area being treated. Because brachytherapy focuses radiation in a small treatment area, only that area is affected.
You may experience tenderness and swelling in the treatment area. Ask your doctor what other side effects can be expected from your treatment.
It is important you understand the precautions and know the possible complication and side effects before having this Brachytherapy. If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
How do I prepare for Brachytherapy?
Before you begin brachytherapy, you may meet with a doctor who specializes in treating cancer with radiation (radiation oncologist). You may also undergo scans to help your doctor determine your treatment plan.
Procedures such as X-rays, computerized tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may be performed before brachytherapy.
What happens during Brachytherapy?
The patient usually receives either general or local anesthesia in an operating room, after which the radioactive substances are placed into body cavities or body tissues using plastic or metal catheters or needles. The doctor will likely use results of an imaging test to find the exact spot to place the catheter.
If the radioactive elements are to remain inside the body permanently, the catheters or needles are removed once the implants are set in place. The patient may be able to go home after the procedure is completed.
In temporary low-dose rate therapy, implants remain in place for hours, or as long as 1 to 7 days before being taken out. During this time, the patient is likely to be kept in a special hospital room in order to limit others’ exposure to radiation. While the implant is in place, time with visitors may be kept short.
In high-dose rate therapy, implants stay in place for a few minutes at a time while delivering a powerful dose of radiation, and are then taken out. The catheter used to deliver the implants may stay in place throughout the course of treatment or may be put in place before each session. Treatments may have to be repeated a number of times over the course of days or weeks, during which time the patient will need to either stay in the hospital or to make daily trips to the hospital.
Receiving brachytherapy is usually not painful, other than some discomfort or tenderness in the area where the applicator is inserted. Pain medications can be used to reduce this discomfort. Extra sleep or rest periods for several days after treatment may be necessary as the body recovers.
The type of implant received and the treatment schedule will depend on the form of cancer, where it is located, the patient’s overall health, and other treatments that have already been completed or will be needed in the future. For example, brachytherapy may be used alone or in combination with external radiation treatments, which will affect decisions on how each therapy is delivered.
What happens after Brachytherapy?
Once brachytherapy treatments are completed, a series of follow-up examinations will likely be scheduled. These will give the doctor a chance to examine the patient’s general physical condition, and to conduct imaging procedures or laboratory tests as needed.
After-treatment visits are important because they allow the doctor to determine if the cancer has stabilized or changed following treatment. These visits also allow patients to report any side-effects or concerns they may have.
If you have any questions or concerns, please consult with your doctor or surgeon for more information.
What should you do after Brachytherapy?
When permanent implants are put in place, they continue to give off radiation over a course of weeks to months. Because this radiation does not travel far the risk of exposing others is small. However, the patient may be advised to keep pregnant women and children (younger than 18 years) out of the lap for more than 20 minutes per hour for the first two months. There are no other precautions for being around other people.
Such precautions are not necessary with temporary brachytherapy because the source of radiation has already been removed.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Brachytherapy: Recovery and Outlook. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/treatments/16500-brachytherapy/recovery-and-outlook. Accessed October 12, 2018.
Brachytherapy. https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/brachytherapy/about/pac-20385159. Accessed October 12, 2018.
Haffty, B., & Wilson, L. (2009). Handbook of radiation oncology. Sudbury, Mass.: Jones and Bartlett Publishers.
Review Date: November 3, 2018 | Last Modified: September 13, 2019