Brachytherapy Short Distance Treatment
Brachytherapy, also called internal radiation or seed implants, is the placement of radioactive sources in or just next to a tumor. To position the sources accurately, special catheters or applicators are used. Because the radiation sources are placed so close to the tumor, your doctors can deliver a large dose of radiation directly to the cancer cells with far less exposure of normal tissues.
The radioactive sources used in brachytherapy, such as thin wires, ribbons, capsules or seeds, come in small sealed containers. Some sources are placed permanently and remain in the body even after their radiation has been expended and they are no longer radioactive. Other sources are placed temporarily inside the body, and the radioactive sources are removed after the prescribed dose of radiation has been delivered.
There are two main types of brachytherapy: intracavity and interstitial. For intracavity treatment, the radioactive sources are put into an existing space near the tumor, such as in the cervix, the vagina or the trachea/bronchus (windpipe). For interstitial treatment, the radioactive sources are put directly into the tissues, such as the prostate.
Often these procedures require anesthesia and brief hospitalization. Patients with permanent implants may have a few restrictions at first and then can quickly return to their normal activities. Temporary implants usually are left inside of your body for several days. While the sources are in place, you need to stay in a private room. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff will continue to take care of you, but they will need to take special precautions to limit their exposure.
Devices called high-dose-rate remote afterloading machines allow radiation oncologists to complete brachytherapy quickly, in about 10 to 20 minutes. Powerful radioactive sources travel through small tubes called catheters to the tumor for the amount of time prescribed by your radiation oncologist. They stay in place, within catheters, until they deliver the desired dose and shape of radiation needed and then are withdrawn by computer control. You may be able to go home shortly after the procedure. Depending on the area treated, you may receive several treatments over a number of days or weeks.
Most patients feel little discomfort during brachytherapy. If the radioactive source is held in proper position by an applicator, you may feel discomfort from the applicator (and there are medications that can help), but the delivery of radiation is completely painless.