Brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment for cancer. It involves inserting a radioactive source, referred to as a “seed” into or near the cancer. Intracavity brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds inside a natural body cavity. Interstitial brachytherapy involves implanting radioactive seeds into or near a cancer tumor. The seeds may be left in place permanently or temporarily.
Brachytherapy is used to destroy cancer cells by using an internal source of radiation. Radiation from internally placed radioactive seeds disrupts the growth of cancer cells. Radiated cancer cells are not able to repair themselves or replicate. Radiation damages all cells- both healthy and cancerous, in the exposed area. Brachytherapy spares as many healthy cells as possible because it directs radiation to only a specific area. Brachytherapy is used as a treatment for many types of cancer, including sarcomas and prostate, breast, lung, gynecological, head and neck, and colorectal cancers.
There are different types of brachytherapy. Intracavity brachytherapy involves placing the radioactive seeds inside a natural body cavity, such as the windpipe, vagina, or rectum. Interstitial brachytherapy involves surgically implanting the radioactive seeds into or near a cancer tumor, such as in the prostate. Brachytherapy can be delivered in high dose rates (HDR) or low dose rates (LDR). HDR brachytherapy is delivered for several minutes and then withdrawn. LDR brachytherapy remains in the body longer.
Depending on the type and location, brachytherapy may require anesthesia, a brief hospital stay, or several short outpatient visits over a period of time. People with permanent implants may resume their regular activities after a few initial restrictions. Temporary implants are left in place for several minutes or a few days. High dose rate remote after loading machines deliver radioactive seeds in and out of a surgically placed catheter. This is a quick treatment, usually less than 30 minutes.
Brachytherapy is usually well tolerated. Most people do not experience discomfort during or after their treatments. Your doctor will let you know specifically what to expect and inform you of any precautions.