By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD
Brachytherapy is a form of internal radiation therapy that uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It is often used in combination with chemotherapy drugs to decrease the risk of cancer recurring.
Brachytherapy involves the placement of radiation sources nearby or inside a tumor. These radioisotopes may be contained inside seeds, ribbons or wires and allows a higher total dose of radiation to treat a more targeted area in a shorter time than is possible with external radiotherapy.
What happens in brachytherapy?
Brachytherapy may be given on a permanent or temporary basis.
In permanent brachytherapy, seeds containing the radioactive material are implanted either inside or nearby the tumor. Low dose radiation is gradually absorbed over time and eventually fades after six months. Permanent implants remain in the body and are not removed. Over time the radiation gets weaker.
For temporary brachytherapy, a catheter or applicator is used to deliver the radiotherapy to a target site. In cases of low dose radiotherapy, the radioactive material is usually placed in the delivery device for 12 to 24 hours before being removed, while high dose radiation may only be administered for a few minutes.
Where is brachytherapy used?
Brachytherapy is mainly used to treat cancer of the prostate, cervix and womb but may also be used in the treatment of head and neck cancer.
Who gives brachytherapy?
The planning and administration of brachtherapy involves a medical physicist, a licensed dosimetrist (overseen by a physicist) or a radiation oncologist. The overall treatment plan is created by the radiation oncologist.
Reviewed by Sally Robertson, BSc
Last Updated: Jun 24, 2014