Sometimes, the best way to treat cancer is to deliver the radiation directly inside the area affected by the cancer. We call this internal radiation therapy, or brachytherapy. This type of cancer treatment makes it possible to place the radiation as close as possible to the tumor area using special forms of internally delivered radiation implants.
By placing radiation within the tumor area, brachytherapy can deliver a higher dose of radiation to kill any potential remaining cancer cells while minimizing damage to healthy cells nearby. In some cases, you may have brachytherapy in addition to regular external radiation therapy.
Radiation brachytherapy is delivered with small radioactive seeds that only emit radiation in the immediate area.
There are two main types of brachytherapy treatment:
- Permanent brachytherapy – If you are having permanent brachytherapy, very small radioactive seeds are implanted directly in the cancer area. The seeds emit the right dose of radiation over a week or two. The amount of radiation they send out will decrease each day until it eventually stops. You will not even notice that the seeds are still there.
- Temporary brachytherapy – If you are having temporary brachytherapy, first a device with a hollow center is placed into the area that needs to be treated. Then radioactive seeds embedded in a plastic tube are placed within the device for just long enough to deliver the prescribed dose, usually less than 10 minutes. . Then the tube holding the seeds is removed. Once the treatment plan is finished, the device is removed.
Brachytherapy is usually done as an outpatient procedure.
After you have permanent brachytherapy treatment with implanted seeds, you will need to avoid being around other people at first, when the radiation levels are highest. You should especially limit your time around children and pregnant women. Your doctor will let you know when it is safe to be around others—it could be a few hours or even a few days, depending on the level of radiation you received.
After temporary brachytherapy, you will not be radioactive. You are free to socialize with others as you wish.