Brachytherapy is a form of radiation treatment where a temporary or permanent radioactive implant is placed inside the patient. This makes it possible to position a higher total dose of radiation in a smaller, very precise area. Brachytherapy is a good option for patients who have cancer in a location that would cause an external beam of radiation to pass through other organs to reach the one that needs treatment. This technology reduces radiation exposure to surrounding healthy tissue or other organs.
The radioactive materials are in the form of a small seed or pellet that is inserted into the area where treatment is needed with a tube called a catheter, or a needle. The amount of time the implants are in place varies by the patient and the type of cancer. There are some that are left in place for only a few minutes (high-dose rate brachytherapy) and some are left in place to slowly decay on their own (low-dose rate brachytherapy).
High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy delivers high doses of radiation to the tumor area from within the body or on the surface of the skin. It is administered through an applicator or tube that is inserted into the body or through an applicator that sits on top of the skin.
This process delivers radiation for minutes to the specific area where the cancer is located, sparing surrounding tissue. The radiation is removed from the body, unlike low-dose brachytherapy which may stay implanted. Patients can receive HDR treatment 1-2 times a day for 2-5 days, or once a week for 2-5 weeks.
Breast cancer high-dose rate brachytherapy is a type of breast cancer treatment that delivers radiation from implants placed inside the breast versus an external beam pointed at the breast. HDR brachytherapy may be used by itself or in combination with other breast cancer treatments as part of the overall treatment plan. Learn more about breast cancer treatment options.
Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy delivers radiation using radioactive seeds that are placed temporarily in the body using an applicator that will later be removed, or they can be left in the body to gradually decay on their own. With low-dose rate brachytherapy the amount of radiation delivered to the targeted area is done at a slower pace. For patients given low-dose brachytherapy that is not permanent, it would delivered through the applicator over the course of 1-7 days. During that time you may need to stay immobile and would likely be at the hospital during treatment.
If the radiation is to remain in your body it will be put into place with a catheter or needle during a short surgical procedure. As time passes, the radiation will slowly diminish. This type of internal radiation is often used for treating prostate cancer.
The oncologist will determine if a patient is a candidate for brachytherapy to treat prostate cancer. It’s typically available for:
Men with early-stage prostate cancer that is relatively slow-growing (low-grade). For these patients, it may be the only treatment needed.
For men with prostate cancer that is more likely to spread outside of the prostate, using a combination of brachytherapy and external radiation called ProstRcision® can be highly effective. This type of prostate cancer treatment is available at our RCOG clinics. Learn more about ProstRcision.
Radiation therapy is a commonly used cancer treatment, with more than half of cancer patients receiving it, it can be used in various ways depending on each patient’s needs. Our radiation guide includes common questions and what to expect when receiving radiation therapy.