Brachytherapy is the most common type of internal radiation therapy. It is used to treat some types of cancer, including breast, cervical, prostate and uterine. As with external beam radiation therapy, the main treating specialist for brachytherapy is a radiation oncologist. How you have brachytherapy may vary between hospitals. Here we describe the general process, but your treatment team can give you more specific information.
Learn more about:
- How brachytherapy works
- Planning treatment
- What to expect at treatment sessions
- Types of brachytherapy
How brachytherapy works
In brachytherapy, sealed radioactive sources are placed inside the body, close to or inside the cancer. The sources produce gamma rays, which have the same effect on cancer as the x-rays used in external beam radiation therapy, but act over a short distance only. It is a way of giving a high dose of radiation to the cancer with a very low dose to surrounding tissues and organs.
The type of brachytherapy used depends on the type of cancer. It may include seeds, needles, wires, pellets or small mobile sources that move from a machine into the body through applicators (thin plastic tubes). Brachytherapy may be used alone or with external beam radiation therapy.
Planning the treatment
The radiation oncologist will explain the treatment process and tell you whether you can have treatment during a day visit (outpatient) or will need a short stay in hospital (inpatient). You will have tests and scans to help your team decide where to place the radioactive sources and to work out the correct dose to deliver to the cancer. These tests may include an ultrasound, CT scan and/or MRI scan.
The radiation oncologist will explain possible side effects and discuss any safety precautions. For some cancers, imaging tests, planning and treatment may all occur in the same session.
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Dr Madhavi Chilkuri, Radiation Oncologist, Townsville Cancer Centre, The Townsville Hospital, and Dean, RANZCR Faculty of Radiation Oncology, QLD; Polly Baldwin, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council SA; Patricia Hanley, Consumer; Prof Michael Hofman, Nuclear Medicine and Molecular Imaging Physician, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Leanne Hoy, Cancer Nurse Consultant, GenesisCare, VIC; Sharon King, Accredited Practising Dietitian, TAS; Dr Yoo Young (Dominique) Lee, Radiation Oncology Consultant, Princess Alexandra Hospital, QLD; Dr Wendy Phillips, Senior Medical Physicist, Department of Radiation Oncology, Royal Adelaide Hospital, SA; Katrina Rech, Radiation Therapist and Quality Systems Manager, GenesisCare, SA. We also thank the health professionals, consumers and editorial teams who have worked on previous editions of this title.
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