It is a type of cancer treatment.
It consists of implanting radioactive material sealed inside a seed, pellet, wire or capsule in the body with a needle or catheter.
The radiation emitted by this source damages the DNA of nearby cancer cells.
Brachytherapy is most often used to treat prostate cancer. It can also be used for gynecological cancers, such as cervical cancer, as well as for breast cancer, lung cancer, rectal cancer, eye cancer and skin cancer.
Here are answers to some of the common questions that brachytherapy experts hear from patients.
What are the benefits of brachytherapy?
The use of an implant allows a higher dose of radiation in a limited area than would be possible with conventional radiation treatments that are administered externally.
This can be more effective in destroying cancer cells while minimizing damage to surrounding normal tissue.
How long does the implant stay in the body?
The implants can be temporary or permanent. If the implants are removed and then replaced later, the catheter is often left until the end of treatment. The catheter is removed when the implants are removed for the last time.
How you will receive brachytherapy depends on a number of factors, including where the tumor is located, the stage of the cancer, and your overall health.
How is it administered?
In most brachytherapy procedures, a doctor who specializes in radiation therapy, called a radiation oncologist, uses a needle or catheter to place the encapsulated radioactive material inside the body directly on or near a tumor.
In some cases, the radioactive material is placed in a body cavity, such as the rectum, vagina, or uterus. The patient is sedated for all these procedures.
How do doctors know if radioactive material goes to the right place?
Radiation oncologists rely on imaging techniques such as computed tomography and ultrasound during the planning and administration of brachytherapy to ensure that the encapsulated material is accurately placed.
Do you require hospitalization?
It depends on the cancer you have and the type of brachytherapy you receive; low dose rate (LDR) or high dose rate (HDR).
LDR brachytherapy generally does not require an overnight stay in the hospital. HDR brachytherapy may require the patient to remain in the hospital.
What is the difference between low dose rate brachytherapy and high rate dose brachytherapy?
With low dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, doctors insert small seeds that contain radiation into or near the tumor while the patient is under anesthesia.
LDR brachytherapy generally takes a little over an hour and does not require a one-night hospital stay. In general, the seeds are permanent, but they cause little or no discomfort, and their radioactivity decreases after several weeks or a few months.
In some cases, such as the treatment of ocular tumors, the implants are removed after several days.
In high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, doctors usually administer concentrated bursts of radiation in a short period of time. With the patient under anesthesia, several plastic catheters (tubes) are inserted into or near the tumor.
The catheters are attached to a machine that contains precise doses of radiation in the form of radioactive pellets. For skin cancer, HDR brachytherapy uses electron-produced radiation on the surface of the skin without the need for catheters.
How does brachytherapy compare with other forms of radiation treatments?
When used properly, brachytherapy has been shown to be as effective as conventional external-beam radiation therapy and surgery for many cancers.
It is best used in patients whose cancer has not spread or metastasized. In many cases, brachytherapy is combined with external-beam radiation therapy, including stereotactic body radiotherapy, to obtain the best results.
How often is the treatment administered and how long do the sessions last?
For LDR brachytherapy, radiation sources must remain in or near the cancer for an extended period of time. Because of this, the treatment usually extends over the course of a week and requires a stay in the hospital.
For HDR brachytherapy, the treatment is given in one or two brief sessions (about 15 minutes), administering the radiation directly to the tumor. After the final treatment, the catheters are removed and the patient can return home.
How long does radiation stay in the body?
After treatment, your body may emit a small amount of radiation for a short time. If the radiation is contained in a temporary implant, you will be asked to stay in the hospital and may have to limit your interaction with visitors.
Pregnant women and children can not visit it. Once the implant is removed, your body will no longer emit radiation.
Permanent implants emit small doses of radiation from a few weeks to months as they stop emitting radiation slowly. Radiation does not travel very far, so the possibility that others may be exposed to radiation is very small.
Even so, you may be asked to take precautions, such as staying away from young children and pregnant women, especially immediately after treatment.
What side effects can occur as a result of brachytherapy?
Side effects of brachytherapy may include swelling, bruising, bleeding, or pain and discomfort at the site where the radiation was given.
The one used for gynecological cancers or prostate cancer can cause short-term urinary symptoms, such as incontinence or painful urination.
Brachytherapy for these cancers can also cause diarrhea, constipation, and rectal bleeding. Prostate brachytherapy can sometimes cause erectile dysfunction.