Brachytherapy Cancer Treatment

Brachytherapy can be used to treat many different cancers and has shown to be effective for particular head and neck, breast, cervix, prostate, and eye cancers. Depending on the type and stage of cancer, Brachytherapy may be combined with other treatments, including proton therapy.

What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation therapy. It uses radioactive seeds to deliver a high dose of radiation to a small area internally. This is different than external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) such as proton therapy or photon (or x-ray) treatments that utilize a beam coming from an external source that is delivered into the patient. For many cancer types, the brachytherapy procedure takes one to just a few days.


brachytherapy patient and doctor

How does Brachytherapy work?

Internal radiation therapy, including Brachytherapy, attacks the cancer from inside the body using radioactive pellets or seeds delivered near or directly into a cancerous tumor through an implantable device.

Implant Procedure

Implanting the device is generally painless, and the implants may be temporary or permanent. These devices may include seeds, pellets, ribbons, wires, needles, capsules, balloons, or tubes. Regardless of the type of implant used, it is placed in the body very close to or inside the tumor, enabling it to harm as few normal cells as possible.

While under general or local anesthesia and in a procedure room designed to keep the radiation inside the room, one or more implants are placed into the body. There are 3 main techniques used in Brachytherapy: Interstitial, Intracavity, Episcleral. Each has a specific purpose and procedure. Your healthcare provider will prescribe the proper method for your cancer diagnosis. An x-ray, ultrasound, MRI, or CT scan is used during the procedure to ensure the implant is placed precisely where it needs to go.

Types of Brachytherapy

Radiation therapy varies, and different treatment types are used with Brachytherapy.

High-dose-rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

High-dose-rate (HDR) Brachytherapy enables a person to be treated for several minutes at a time with an effective radioactive source that’s placed in the body using an applicator. The source is removed after a short period of time, typically 10 to 20 minutes. This procedure may be repeated twice a day over a few days. It can also be done once a day over the course of a few weeks. The applicator may be left in place between treatments, or it can also be positioned before each treatment. People getting HDR may need to stay in the hospital if it involves multiple-day treatments and if the applicator is left in place. Special precautions are usually required after treatment, so it is essential to consult with your cancer care team regarding aftercare.

Low-dose Brachytherapy (LDR)

Also referred to as permanent seed implants, LDR brachytherapy uses radioactive seeds permanently implanted into an organ. The seeds emit low levels of radiation for several weeks. When this radiation treatment ends, the seeds are left in place permanently. You may have to stay in bed for larger implants and keep still to ensure it does not move. Smaller implants like the seeds or pellets are left in place and never taken out. Over several weeks, they stop giving off radiation. The seeds or pellets are about the size of grains of rice and rarely cause problems. If your implants are required to be left in, going home the same day they’re put in may be an option. Special precautions may be necessary, so be sure to speak with your cancer care team regarding this.

Brachytherapy for Prostate Cancer

Oklahoma Cancer Center specializes in Brachytherapy for prostate cancer treatments.  Interstitial Brachytherapy is used for Prostate cancer, placing the brachytherapy seed directly into the prostate gland. This technique is used because the cancer cells will receive most radiation, leaving nearby healthy cells minimally affected.

Brachytherapy can be used as a standalone treatment for prostate cancer or in conjunction with external beam radiation therapy such as state-of-the-art proton therapy. The doctors at Oklahoma Cancer Center will meet with patients to discuss all of their potential options including proton therapy, brachytherapy, and x-ray-based radiation such as IMRT, all of which are offered by Oklahoma Cancer Center.

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Benefits of Brachytherapy Cancer Treatment

  • Higher doses of radiation in smaller areas in less time.
  • Allows the radiation delivery to be precise and accurate
  • Reduces spread of radiation in the body
  • The procedure is minimally invasive
  • Less overall treatment time

Brachytherapy Path to Recovery

After permanent Brachytherapy, the implanted seeds will become less radioactive and decay with time. Consult with your doctor to limit close contact with others, such as pregnant women or children. With temporary implants, the doctor will remove all radioactive material before you return home, so there is no risk of exposure after the doctor removes the applicator and radiation sources.

Your doctor and care team will give you specific instructions before returning home. Depending on the specific treatment you received, you may have sensitivity and swelling in the treatment area or other symptoms. Typically, patients can resume normal activities within a few days or weeks. Your doctor may request a series of follow-up exams after treatment. These may include a physical check-up, imaging exams, and blood draws, or other lab work.