Brachytherapy: What is it?


Brachytherapy is an essential method of treating cancer. It destroys cancer cells by targeting them with radiation.

It uses a radiation source sealed in a small holder called an implant.

Brachytherapy delivers a high radiation dose to the tumor, with minimal exposure to the healthy tissues.

Types of Brachytherapy

3 types of Brachytherapy are:

Low Dose Rate Implants: Emit low doses of radiation released over time, from several hours to several days. This requires a hospital stay, and your doctor will remove the implant post-treatment

High-Dose Rate Implants: Emits high doses of radiation for approximately 10 to 20 minutes. Treatment times vary, and there may be one or two daily sessions over several days or weeks. Your doctor later removes the implant.

Permanent implants: Your doctor will remove the catheter after the radiation source is in place. The implant remains in your body for the rest of your life and emits radiation until no radiation is left.

Preparation for Brachytherapy

Your doctor may advise you to undergo the following pre-procedure preparations,

· Pre-treatment ultrasound, MRI or CT scan, and blood tests

· Electrocardiogram (EKG)

· Chest X-rays

· Bowel preparation

Purpose of Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy helps to treat various cancers, such as:

· Brain cancer

· Bile duct cancer

· Breast cancer

· Cervical cancer

· Skin cancer

· Esophageal Cancer

· Lung cancer

· Prostate cancer

· Rectal cancer

· Soft Tissue Cancer

· Vaginal cancer

Your doctor may recommend brachytherapy alone or combine it with other cancer treatments.

Techniques For Placing Brachytherapy

Your doctor will place the catheter or applicator to deliver radiation into your body before you begin treatment.

· Interstitial Brachytherapy – Radiation source is placed directly into the tumor

· Intracavity Brachytherapy – Radiation source is placed inside the body cavity

· Unsealed Internal Radiation Therapy – Injecting radioactive material directly into the vein or body cavity

You may need the radiation source for a few minutes, days, or the rest of your life, depending on the type and location of your cancer.

What are the possible side effects of brachytherapy?

Possible side effects of brachytherapy are

· Localized bruising

· Bleeding and swelling

· Fatigue and discomfort

But these are temporary and usually resolve within a few days after the treatment.

How Long Will Each Session of Brachytherapy Take?

Each brachytherapy session takes 30 minutes or more, depending on the type and the extent of the cancer.

Are there any risks to others after receiving permanent brachytherapy sources?

The risks are minimal as radiation doses from permanent brachytherapy treatments are acceptably low. Maintaining a safe distance from pregnant women and young children is advisable for the time recommended by your radiation oncologist.

What to Expect After the Removal of Catheter?

Your doctor will remove the catheter once you finish treatment with low and high-dose-rate implants. Here are some things to expect:

· You may feel tender around the catheter or applicator for a few days

· You may feel tired, weak, or sick to your stomach

· Take pain medicines if needed

· Limit Physical activities for a few days

Benefits of Brachytherapy

· Reduce the chance for survival of cancer cells which usually grow in between radiotherapy doses

· Treatment time is less compared to other radiotherapy techniques

· Few side effects and less risk of damaging the surrounding healthy tissue

What Happens to Permanent Implants After Brachytherapy?

Once the radiation is gone, the implant is no longer active and usually causes no harm. So, there is no need to take them out.