What to expect at treatment sessions

Depending on the type of brachytherapy you are having, you may need to have a local anaesthetic to numb the area being treated, or a general anaesthetic so you will be unconscious for the treatment. The radiation sources will be positioned in your body, sometimes with the help of imaging scans (such as x-ray, ultrasound and CT) and computerised machines.

You should not have any severe pain or feel ill during a course of brachytherapy. If the radioactive sources are being held in place by an applicator, you may feel some discomfort, but your doctor can prescribe medicine to help you relax and relieve any pain. Once the applicator is removed, you may be sore or sensitive in the treatment area. After the treatment, you may have to limit physical and sexual activity and take some safety precautions for a period of time – your treatment team will advise you.

If you need to stay in hospital for treatment, take reading material and other activities to keep you occupied. You may also be able to watch television or listen to music. Check with your doctor what you can take into the room, as there may be restrictions.

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 a single source that releases high doses of radiation in short sessions, each lasting a number of minutes. The source is removed at the end of each session.

low-dose-rate (LDR)

Uses multiple sources or seeds that release radiation over days, weeks or months. The sources may be temporary or permanent.

pulsed-dose-rate (PDR)

Uses a single source that releases radiation for a few minutes every hour over a number of days. The source is removed at the end of treatment.

This information was last reviewed in December 2019
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