Internal radiation therapy

Also known as: Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive material in, or adjacent to, a tumor. The radioactive sources used in brachytherapy, such as thin wires, ribbons, seeds or capsules, come in small, sealed containers. These sources may be implanted permanently or temporarily, depending on the cancer. A permanent implant, such as prostate seed implants, remains in the body after the sources are no longer radioactive. Other radioactive sources are placed temporarily inside the body, such as the cervix, and are removed after the appropriate amount of radiation has been delivered.

There are two types of brachytherapy: intracavitary treatment and interstitial treatment. With intracavitary treatment, the radioactive sources are put into a space near the tumor, such as the cervix, vagina or esophagus. With interstitial treatment, the radioactive sources are placed directly into the tissues, such as the prostate.

These procedures may require anesthesia, a surgical procedure and a brief stay in the hospital. Patients with permanent implants may have a few restrictions at first and then can quickly return to normal activities. Temporary implants are left inside the body for minutes, hours or days. While the radioactive sources are in place, patients stay in a private room. During the time when radiation is present in your system, doctors, nurses and other medical staff continue to take care of you, but they take special precautions to limit their exposure to radiation.