What is Brachytherapy?

No form of cancer treatment is ever easy to endure, but if you have to go through the process, wouldn’t you rather it be as fast as possible? That’s partially the logic behind a form of noninvasive cancer treatment called brachytherapy.

With a prefix from the Greek for “fast,” brachytherapy is used to treat various kinds of cancer with radioactive material. It’s also commonly referred to as internal radiation, since the procedure involves placing the radioactive material inside the body near the site of cell mutation.

This form of treatment is commonly prescribed not only because of its efficacy and reduced symptoms, but because, as the name suggests, it tends to get the job done faster than alternative treatments.

In this article, we’ll review a bit more about brachytherapy and what you need to know, whether you or a loved one is the patient undergoing treatment.

For more immediate information about prostate cancer or chemotherapeutic technologies, please contact HIFU Prostate Services today.

What is brachytherapy used to treat?

Brachytherapy is exclusively used to treat cancer, but it can be applied to virtually any variation of the disease. Breast, esophageal, prostate, skin, eye cancer, and more are all viable candidates for this radiation therapy.

Are there any risks?

Compared to traditional chemotherapy, which distributes radiation throughout the entire body, brachytherapy is localized to target only the area(s) affected by cancer. For this reason, side effects and symptoms tend to be decreased.

However, it’s not uncommon for recipients to experience some swelling or tenderness in the areas undergoing treatment. Your doctor can give you or your loved one more information about what to expect before the brachytherapy process begins.

How does brachytherapy work?

Radioactive material is placed internally near the site of cancer in the body, but the precise placement will vary depending on the health, diagnosis, and treatment objectives of the individual patient.

As the human body is an extremely complex organism, there are a number of ways by which the brachytherapy radiation materials may be introduced to the cancerous site. For example, intracavitary brachytherapy refers to placement of the materials inside a body opening, such as the cervix or the esophagus. To ensure appropriate maneuvering of the radiation-administering device, an ultrasound or CT machine may be used for monitoring.

In other instances, brachytherapy may be used to target body tissues. This is referred to as interstitial brachytherapy, and it can be applied to many types of cancer including breast, prostate, and lung.

The method by which radiation therapy is applied will also vary. Needles and catheters are common options, but your treatment provider may also use a specialized applicator containing unique devices called “seeds.” These are “planted” into the targeted tissue and gradually release radioactive material into the cancerous area during the therapy sessions, which are not continuous but administered in several-hour increments over weeks or months.

Are there different kinds of brachytherapy?

There are three primary kinds or categories of brachytherapy: high-dose rate, lose-dose rate, and permanent.

High-dose rate brachytherapy delivers the greatest amount of radioactive material in the shortest amount of time, generally lasting between several and 20 minutes. These will be repeated on a daily or twice-daily basis for days or weeks, depending on individual needs. Following the brief session, the radioactive material is removed from the targeted site and the patient is free to go about their day. They will not emanate radioactive materials or pose a threat to those around them.

Low-dose rate brachytherapy provides a less acute delivery of radioactive material and instead distributes the treatment continuously and gradually over a longer period of time. The duration may last several hours or several days. The placement of radioactive material may require the recipient to be anesthetized or sedated so as to ensure proper insertion and minimization of discomfort. Pain is not a common symptom. Once the designated amount of time has elapsed, the device is removed, along with the danger of harming others with radioactive material.

Permanent brachytherapy, commonly used for cases of prostate cancer, is exactly what it sounds like: a device or applicator containing radioactive material is placed into the body and left there for as long as cancer persists. Initially, you should be careful not to spend time around vulnerable populations like pregnant women and children, as the area of your body receiving treatment will emit small doses of radiation. With time, however, this risk will diminish and disappear, and soon you’ll be free to return to your normal environments and take up a greater number of activities and pastimes.

How effective is brachytherapy?

This noninvasive radiation treatment has proven incredibly effective for many cases, but given the individual complications and details of every unique cancer diagnosis, the only way to know if it has been effective is through confirmation from a doctor. Your medical provider will likely perform scans of the affected area(s) to ensure cancer has been eradicated. Ongoing research and improvements are continuously being made by medical experts to increase desirable outcomes and prognoses.


Brachytherapy provides an effective, noninvasive, and low-symptom option for radiation-based cancer treatment. Whether one needs treatment administered to the throat, the eyes, the prostate, or somewhere else, brachytherapy is most likely a viable solution.

For more information on cancer treatment, radiation, and brachytherapy application devices, please contact HIFU Prostate Services today.

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