For certain types of cancer, the best treatment is to place a radiation source in or near the tumor. This type of treatment is called brachytherapy.
Brachytherapy can be used to treat many types of cancer, including:
- Bile duct cancer
- Breast cancer
- Coronary artery cancer
- Esophageal cancer
- Gynecologic cancer
- Head and neck cancers
- Prostate cancer
During the procedure, your doctor uses a catheter or other device to place a radioactive source inside your body, close to the tumor. The source can be contained in pellets, seeds or capsules. This allows a high dose of radiation to specifically target the area that needs treatment, while limiting the impact on healthy tissue. Depending on your type of treatment, the radioactive source can be placed in your body temporarily or permanently.
Types of brachytherapy include:
- In low-dose radiation brachytherapy, the radioactive seeds—about the size of rice grains—stay inside your body and put out a small amount of radiation for several months. Over time, the seeds stop giving off radiation. You go about your normal routine with the seeds in place.
- During high-dose radiation brachytherapy, your doctor inserts the radioactive material into your body for a brief period time, usually about 30 minutes. The radioactive source is removed immediately after treatment. This method often requires two treatments spaced one week apart.
Compared to external beam radiation, brachytherapy can cause fewer side effects and the treatment time is typically shorter.