Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy is the most common type of internal radiation therapy. As with external beam radiation therapy, the main treating specialist for brachytherapy is a radiation oncologist. Procedures for brachytherapy may vary between hospitals. Here we describe the general process, but your treatment team can give you more specific information.

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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 only over a short distance. 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 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.


Dose rates

You may be told you are having high-dose-rate, low-dose-rate or pulsed-dose-rate brachytherapy.

  • High-dose-rate (HDR) – Uses sources that release high doses of radiation in short sessions, each lasting a number of minutes. The sources will be removed at the end of each session.
  • Low-dose-rate (LDR) – Uses sources that release radiation over days, weeks or months. The sources may be temporary or permanent.
  • Pulsed-dose-rate (PDR) – Uses sources that release radiation for a few minutes every hour over a number of days. The sources will be removed at the end of treatment.

This information was last reviewed in December 2017
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