Brachytherapy, also known as internal radiation, is a form of radiotherapy used to treat cancer. The procedure involves administering radioactive material inside the body to deliver higher doses of radiation compared to more common forms of cancer treatment. By only targeting cancer cells in a localized area, brachytherapy prevents surrounding cells from wearing off. In effect, the patient often sees earlier results with fewer side effects compared to conventional treatment. 

It treats different types of cancers in the body, including the:

  • Prostate
  • Breast
  • Vagina
  • Lung
  • Eye
  • Skin
  • Cervix
  • Bladder
  • Brain
  • Esophagus
  • Uterus
  • Rectum
  • Head and neck


There are three main types: high-dose-rate, low-dose-rate, and permanent brachytherapy. Whether one suits you more or the other depends on your treatment needs.

  • High-dose-rate brachytherapy

In high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy, patients undergo short treatment sessions over several days. This is an outpatient procedure. Patients are generally not admitted unless in special cases.

Each session is over 10 to 20 minutes long. Once you are in a comfortable supine position, a radiation therapy team inserts a catheter inside your body cavity or where the tumor is. This procedure may be done several times a day. Brachytherapy is a painless procedure. Once the device has been removed, you may go about your day without having to worry about being given off radiation.

  • Low-dose-rate brachytherapy

In low-dose-rate brachytherapy (LDR), patients are exposed to continuous radiation over one to two days. This requires that patients be admitted to the treatment center overnight or longer. 

Your radiation therapy team will administer anesthesia before the actual procedure begins. Once done, the radioactive material is inserted into your body by hand or by machine. The entire treatment process usually takes place in a private room. 

Unlike in HDR treatment, the radioactive material remains in your body for a longer period thus visitors are only allowed to visit you briefly while treatment is ongoing. Once the treatment is complete the material will be removed and visitors are totally welcome.

  • Permanent Brachytherapy

Permanent brachytherapy involves implanting the radioactive material, usually pellets or seeds, permanently. This is done for specific cases such as prostate cancer.

Your doctor will be placing the seeds by hand with the aid of medical imaging. Placement may cause pain, but the discomfort should not persist once the procedure is over. While you may emit radiation as the material is inside, this is usually not a cause of concern for others.


What risks are involved with brachytherapy?

Since brachytherapy is a localized treatment procedure, the side effects are only contained within the area where the radioactive material is placed. Your doctor should inform you of what side effects you should be expecting after the treatment.

If you experience swelling, soreness, or any discomfort outside the treatment area, consult your doctor.

How will I know my results?

To determine whether your brachytherapy is successful, your doctor should schedule scans after the treatment. You may also need to go through a series of follow-up examinations.

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