What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a medical term that refers to internal radiation therapy. It is one of several types of radiation therapy used to treat cancer.

Brachytherapy refers to various procedures that place radioactive material inside your body. It is not as common as external radiation, where a machine sends radiation beams into the body. For certain types of cancer, brachytherapy is as effective as - or more effective than - external treatments. It may be completed in less time. In some cases, brachytherapy is combined with external radiation therapy.

During brachytherapy, you’ll receive a permanent or temporary implant containing radioactive material. There are many types of implants, including seeds, wires and balloons. Your implant will be placed inside, or next to, your tumor. 

Types of Brachytherapy

The type of brachytherapy you'll need depends on several factors. These include the size and location of your tumor, and whether you're also undergoing other cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy or surgery. Brachytherapy is often used to treat cancers of the breast, prostate, cervix and uterus.

Mercy offers three main types of brachytherapy:

High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

HDR brachytherapy places a powerful radiation source in your body for a few minutes at a time. You may need several short treatment sessions which may range from a few days to a few weeks.

Permanent Brachytherapy

During permanent brachytherapy, tiny, rice-sized seeds are implanted within the body which emit radiation for several weeks. As time passes, the seeds become less radioactive. The inactive implants remain in your body permanently.

Skin HDR

Skin HDR uses an applicator to place a radioactive substance on areas of skin with basal cell or squamous cell skin cancers. The process causes minimal scarring and side effects. Patients may require several treatments over 4-6 weeks.  

Benefits of Brachytherapy

All types of radiation therapy kill cancer cells. But brachytherapy offers several advantages. These include:

  • It can treat a smaller area of the body, with higher doses of radiation, in fewer treatment sessions.
  • Because radiation is confined to a small area of your body, there is less damage to nearby healthy tissue.

For certain types of cancer, brachytherapy is as effective as - or more effective than - external treatments. 

What to Expect from Brachytherapy Treatment

Your Mercy care team will make sure you understand what to expect before, during and after brachytherapy treatment. For example:

  • Most patients who receive LDR need to stay in the hospital for one or more nights. You will be able to go home once your implant is removed.
  • Following permanent brachytherapy, your body might give off tiny amounts of radiation while the implant is active. Your doctor will tell you if you should limit contact with pregnant women or young children.
  • Permanent metallic implants may also trigger metal detectors during security screenings at airports and other facilities.
  • Brachytherapy may cause temporary side effects. These often include fatigue, swelling or tenderness in the treatment area.
  • Brachytherapy for prostate cancer may temporarily or permanently impact male fertility. If you’re concerned about having children, talk to your Mercy physician. He or she can recommend options to preserve healthy sperm before you begin treatment.

If you have questions or concerns about brachytherapy, please talk to one of your Mercy caregivers. We'll help you understand your options and make decisions best suited to your condition.


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