Radiation oncology: Brachytherapy
Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy used to treat cancer. It involves placing radioactive material in the body, near or inside the tumor. It is the preferred treatment for some types of cancer, including prostate, cervix, breast, ovary, gallbladder, uterus, and cancers affecting the head and neck, because it allows a higher total dose of radiation to treat a smaller area, often in a shorter period of time. Your doctor may recommend either permanent brachytherapy or temporary brachytherapy.
Permanent brachytherapy, also called seed therapy or seed implantation, uses radioactive "seeds," each about the size of a grain of rice. They are implanted in or near the tumor and left there permanently. After a certain period of time, generally several weeks, the radioactive potency of the seeds will break down, and the material will remain inside the body with little lasting effect on or risk to your health.
What to expect
Seed implantation is done using needles pre-filled with the radioactive seeds, which are implanted into the tumor. Your doctor will use images from X-ray, ultrasound, and/or CT exams to make sure the seeds are properly positioned.
The procedure can vary greatly depending on the location of the tumor and other factors. Generally, seed implantation is an outpatient procedure, but some cases require a short hospital stay.
Some swelling and mild pain or discomfort after the procedure is normal. It is recommended that you limit your contact with children and pregnant women until the implant has decayed, generally several weeks.
Temporary brachytherapy involves implanting radioactive material and then removing it after a specific amount of time.
What to expect
Temporary brachytherapy generally requires an overnight hospital stay so that continuous delivery of low-dose radiation can be maintained over several hours. A special delivery device is put in place, and your doctor will load radioactive sources for a specific amount of time. You may receive general anesthesia or a sedative to make you more comfortable and to help you relax, as you will need to stay still for prolonged periods of time.
When your treatment is complete, all radioactive sources and delivery devices will be removed before you are released to go home. You will be scheduled for a checkup, generally 4-6 weeks after the procedure.
Learn more about our Radiation Oncology program