Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that places radioactive seeds directly into or around tumors, delivering very high radiation doses to the tumor while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue. In contrast to external beam radiation, where the beam needs to travel through the body to reach a tumor, brachytherapy uses a procedure to place radioactive seeds directly into the tumor. This can be the most accurate way to deliver radiation treatment and minimize damage to surrounding organs. Brachytherapy is a true example of academic medicine at its best.
Our specialists collaborate to deliver this innovative treatment. The seeds are created individually and customized for each patient to preserve effectiveness and ensure the physician-prescribed dosage of radiation is present within the seeds.
What is brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy, often referred to as internal radiation, is a form of radiation therapy used to treat many types of cancer. Unlike conventional radiation therapy that uses external beam radiation, brachytherapy places radioactive seeds directly inside your body. This enables doctors to deliver higher radiation doses directly to tumors and specific areas. It may also cause fewer side effects than traditional radiation therapy.
There are 3 main types of brachytherapy: Low-dose rate, high-dose rate and permanent. The type you receive will depend on the type of cancer and your specific treatment plan.
- Low-dose rate brachytherapy: With low-dose brachytherapy, a procedure is performed to place radioactive seeds directly inside the tumor. You receive a slow and continuous dose of radiation from these radioactive seeds over time.
- High-dose rate brachytherapy: High-dose brachytherapy works a little differently. With this treatment, the radiation seed is temporarily placed inside the tumor for between 10 to 20 minutes.
Who can have brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy is effective in the treatment of many cancers throughout the body. It is best used in patients where the cancer has not spread, or metastasized. In many cases, brachytherapy is combined with other treatments, including external beam radiation therapy or surgery. Some examples include:
How does brachytherapy work?
Much like external beam radiation therapy, brachytherapy uses radiation to kill cancer cells. The difference with brachytherapy is that it allows doctors to provide higher doses of radiation delivered directly into the cancer while minimizing exposure to healthy tissue. Radiation is delivered to the cancer cells in the form of radioactive seeds.
There are 2 forms of implant placement: intracavitary and interstitial. With intracavitary, the implant is placed within a body cavity, such as the uterus. With interstitial, the implants are placed near a tumor but not within a body cavity.
Benefits and risks of brachytherapy
Brachytherapy offers many different benefits when it comes to cancer treatments. Because of its internal delivery directly into the tumor, doctors can use high-dose radiation while reducing the side effects commonly seen with external beam radiation. It is a minimally invasive procedure that is often performed on an outpatient basis. Treatment times are typically short, which may offer quicker recovery.
Side effects are typically less than seen with conventional radiation therapy, but treatment can cause tenderness and swelling in the treatment area.
In addition, because the radiation source is inside your body, you will give off radiation for a short time period, especially with higher doses. You will be given safety measures to follow, including limiting exposure to others, especially pregnant women and young children.
What happens during brachytherapy?
To begin the treatment, thin catheters are placed into the tumor. The catheters connect to a high-dose rate machine that holds a single, highly radioactive seed at the end of a wire. The seed is pushed into each of the catheters one at a time under the guidance of a computer.
Once placed, the radioactive seeds attack the tumor with the initial dose of radiation within the first 15 minutes of implantation. Within 45 minutes, the second dose is released to prevent the cancer cells from spreading and the tumor from growing back.
Why choose us
We offer the most advanced radiation technologies in the Kansas City region, including brachytherapy, and our radiation oncologists are specialized experts in the cancers they treat. For some cancers, brachytherapy is the best treatment option. For example, for men with aggressive, high-risk prostate cancer, brachytherapy will provide significantly higher cure rates than external beam radiation treatment. As with any cancer treatment, the expertise of the physician is very important. Physicians at The University of Kansas Cancer Center are nationally renowned experts and have the most extensive experience with brachytherapy in this region.
Request your appointment today.
To make an appointment at The University of Kansas Cancer Center, call 913-588-1227.