Brachytherapy (Internal Radiation Therapy)

Brachytherapy involves placing radiation directly inside the body, as close as possible to the cancer cells. With brachytherapy, you can get a higher total dose of radiation to treat a smaller area and in a shorter time than is possible with external radiation therapy.

Cooper offers the most advanced brachytherapy treatments and approaches available — delivered with compassion. From your first appointment to the completion of your care, we will be there to support you and answer all of your questions. 

We treat your cancer aggressively, while minimizing the side effects of radiation therapy. Using a state-of-the-art image-based planning system, we precisely locate your tumor and design treatments with pinpoint accuracy. Then we deliver the most effective dose of radiation to your tumor while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible.

Uses of brachytherapy

Brachytherapy can be used alone or with external radiation therapy nd/or surgery to:

  • Treat cancer
  • Control cancer by slowing its growth
  • Relieve symptoms caused by the growth of the tumor. 

How brachytherapy works

Brachytherapy focuses the radiation on the cancer cells and lessens radiation damage to the nearby healthy tissue. Instead of using an external radiation machine, the radioactive material is sealed in a small holder (called an implant). The implant is a thin wire or a thin, hollow tube (a catheter).

There are two ways to do brachytherapy: 

  • Placing the implant directly into or near the cancer. This is also called interstitial radiation therapy or radioactive seed placement. 
  • Placing the implant directly into a space (cavity) in the body, such as the uterus or the space where doctors removed a tumor. This is also called intracavitary radiation.

The implants may be left in your body for a short time (temporary) or permanently. The type of implant you get, the dose of radiation, and the length of time you have the implant depends on:

  • The tumor size, location, and sensitivity to radiation
  • Your general health
  • Other treatments you’ve had.

Brachytherapy can also be given by injecting a radioactive solution into the bloodstream or a space in the body.

Types of Brachytherapy

Cooper offers two main types of brachytherapy for cancer:

High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy is the most advanced form of brachytherapy. Done on an outpatient basis, this is available only at Cooper and a few other centers in South Jersey. 

HDR brachytherapy involves placing the radioactive material in your body temporarily, for 10 to 20 minutes at a time. It is usually done in three to five outpatient treatments over several days.

The radioactive material is placed in the center of your tumor through a thin, hollow tube (catheter), using digital images to pinpoint exactly where the catheter should go. Then the catheter is connected to the HDR machine, which delivers the radiation therapy. After the treatment, the radioactive source goes back into the machine and the catheter is removed.

In some cancers, HDR brachytherapy is as effective as low dose rate brachytherapy. It is more convenient and less expensive than low dose rate brachytherapy, and has fewer side effects. 

Once the radioactive material is removed, you won't give off radiation or be radioactive. You aren't a danger to other people.

Low Dose Rate (LDR) Brachytherapy is done in the hospital over up to seven days.  

When temporary implants are used, surgeons place the catheter near the site of the tumor hours or days after surgery. After the appropriate amount of time, the radioactive material is removed. When permanent implants are used, the radioactive material is placed directly into the tumor site and left there.  There is a small chance that the radioactive material used in LDR brachytherapy could harm other people, since it stays in your body. Your activities and visitors may be restricted during this treatment. Once a temporary implant is removed, it is safe to be around other people.

If you have a permanent implant, you’re more likely to need to limit your visitors for a short period of time. But the radiation gets weaker over time and the remaining radioactive material will not harm you or be uncomfortable. 

Your doctor will talk to you about safety measures you need to take during LDR brachytherapy.

Contact Us

To make an appointment with a brachytherapy expert at MD Anderson Cooper, call 855.MDA.COOPER (855.832.2667).