Internal Radiation Therapy (Brachytherapy)
Brachytherapy is a special use of radiation in which a radioactive source is placed as close as possible to the cancer cells. This allows higher doses of radiation treatment in a smaller part of your body resulting in more cancer killing power at the site without extensive damage to healthy cells. You may also get internal radiation along with other types of treatment, including external beam radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery
The radioactive source may be delivered by seeds, containers or catheters placed in the affected tissue. The radioactive source may be delivered to the cancer cells through tubes using a special machine known as a remote afterloader.
Some of the radioactive material used for brachytherapy includes cesium, iridium, and iodine. By using internal radiation therapy, the radiation oncologist can give a higher total dose of radiation in a shorter time than is possible with external treatment.
Before your brachytherapy treatment, you will be given a handout describing the procedure (how to prepare, what to expect, activity and diet restrictions, and side effects). Please discuss any questions or concerns with your radiation oncologist
You will meet with your oncologist or nurse before you begin treatment. Your oncologist or nurse will discuss radiation therapy, its benefits for your situation, side effects and how to care for yourself during and after treatment. Your cancer team will develop a treatment plan for you. During this appointment you may undergo:
A physical exam
A review of your medical history
Additional blood work
X-rays and imaging tests to define the places in your body that will get radiation or treatment fields.
Length of treatment
Treatment time depends on the type of brachytherapy procedure. Some treatments allow you to be treated within a few minutes either as an inpatient or an outpatient while other types of brachytherapy may last for one to three days requiring hospitalization.
There are three types of brachytherapy:
Low dose rate implants
- The radiation source stays in place for 1 to 7 days.
- A hospital stay is likely.High-dose rate implants.
- The radiation source is in place for 10 to 20 minutes at a time and then taken out.
- Treatment frequency depends on your type of cancer. Typically, treatment is twice a day for 2 to 5 days or once a week for 2 to 5 weeks.
- 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 center to have the radiation implants.Permanent implants
- Radiation is put in place using a catheter.
- The implants stay in your body.
- The radiation gets weaker over time. Eventually almost all radiation will go away.
- Limit your time around other people and do not spend time around children or pregnant women when the radiation is first put in place.
The side effects of brachytherapy vary from patient to patient. The side effects you experience depend mostly on the part of the body that is treated. Before beginning your treatment, your radiation oncologist will explain the side effects you might experience, how long they might last, and how serious they might be.
Some brachytherapy procedures use radioactive materials that transmit radiation outside of the body. If you receive this type of treatment, you may be admitted to a private hospital room to protect others from the radiation. You will be allowed to have visitors, but they will be given specific instructions before they enter the room. With some procedures, such as prostate seed implants, you will be allowed to go home. You will be given radiation safety instructions to protect those around you.
Some outpatient procedures require medication to help you relax. If you were prescribed or given this medication, you must have someone available to drive you home as the medication will affect your judgment.