What You Need to Know About Brachytherapy

Radiation therapy includes brachytherapy. To kill cancer cells, radioactive material is positioned inside or close to a tumour. While there are certain advantages to this method over other radiation techniques, there are also some risks involved.

One form of internal radiation therapy used to treat some cancers is called brachytherapy. It entails inserting radioactive material into or close to a tumour; this material is typically in the form of seeds, pellets, ribbons, or wires. High-frequency waves released by the radioactive source harm the DNA of cancer cells.

Brachytherapy is occasionally used by medical professionals as the main cancer treatment. To eradicate any cancer cells that could have survived surgery or external radiation therapy, they might also utilise it.

Despite being a safe and often painless process, you might have to spend the duration of your treatment period in a hospital and away from other people.

When do doctors recommend brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is usually used by doctors to treat tiny, early-stage malignancies that haven't progressed to other body sections.

The type of cancer and your potential tolerance for specific side effects will determine whether brachytherapy is a good option for you.

Cancers that may benefit from brachytherapy

Brachytherapy may be beneficial for the following forms of cancer:
  • prostate cancer
  • cervical cancer
  • endometrial cancer
  • liver cancer
  • head and neck cancers
  • eye cancer
  • skin cancer
  • breast cancer
  • lung cancer
  • rectal cancer

What is the procedure for brachytherapy?

Permanent or temporary brachytherapy is available.

In temporary brachytherapy, radioactive material is inserted into a catheter and then removed shortly after.

In permanent brachytherapy, radioactive seeds are inserted into or close to the tumour. Over a few weeks or months, the radioactivity in the seeds decreases. They stay in the body indefinitely after they go dormant.

Brachytherapy is administered inside a surgical room with extra safety measures in place to limit radiation exposure. The process is generally as follows:
  1. Either local anaesthetic to numb the implant location or general anaesthesia to put you to sleep are options available to you.
  2. An applicator or catheter is inserted into your body by a doctor.
  3. The radiation source is inserted by the physician into the catheter or applicator.
  4. The source of radiation stays there for a few minutes, a few days, or even indefinitely.
  5. You might need to spend the night or a few hours in the hospital.

What are the risks and side effects of brachytherapy?

Although adverse effects are rare, brachytherapy is generally a safe procedure.

Brachytherapy involves enclosing the radiation source in a metallic capsule that is nonradioactive to stop the material from spreading to other areas of your body. There is a very slim chance that certain seeds will spread to other bodily organs, such as the lungs.

Where the radiation is implanted determines the potential negative effects. Among the possible negative effects are:

bowel problems, such as:
  • rectal pain
  • burning
  • blood in the urine
  • radiation proctitis
  • constipation
  • diarrhea
urinary problems, such as:
  • urinary incontinence
  • urethral stricture (this is rare)
  • frequent urination
  • erectile dysfunction
  • skin irritation
  • increased risk of bone fractures
  • fertility issues
  • fatigue
Smoking can worsen the negative effects of radiation.

How do I prepare for brachytherapy?

Before the surgery, you will get instructions from your doctor.

Medications to stop

Before the surgery, ask your doctor about quitting or changing any blood thinners you may be taking.

Before your treatment, your doctor could advise you to cease using blood thinners. Supplements including fish oil or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory medicines (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, may be examples of this.

Medications to take

Antibiotics are prescribed by your doctor to prevent infection.

Your doctor may also recommend a drug to enhance and improve urine flow in conjunction with prostate brachytherapy. Take these prescriptions as directed by your doctor, both before and following your treatment.

Bowel preparation

Two days before the surgery, you might need to start emptying your bowels. Observe the guidance provided by your physician.

While consuming a lot of water can aid in bowel movement, it is generally advised to abstain from fluids after midnight on the day of the procedure.

What can I expect after brachytherapy?

Anaesthesia is typically not required for the removal of a temporary implant. Although the treated area could be uncomfortable, most people recover enough to resume their normal activities in a few days.

For roughly a week following treatment, you can experience some pain or edoema in that location.

When an implant is permanent, it remains in its original position even after the radiation treatment ends. You might need to stay away from certain people for a few months, like tiny children and pregnant women, as the radiation may harm them.

Your doctor will schedule follow-up appointments with you to assess the cancer's progress and track your recuperation.

After the surgery, get in touch with your doctor if you have significant discomfort or fever. Inform your physician as well if you observe any rises in the following in the vicinity of the implant site:
  • redness
  • hardness
  • swelling
  • warmth

How effective is brachytherapy?

With brachytherapy, your doctor can treat your tumour with higher radiation dosages while causing the least amount of harm to the organs around it.

Brachytherapy's efficacy differs depending on the cancer site. A review published in 2022 states that for many tumours, brachytherapy is just as successful as surgery and external beam radiation therapy (EBRT).

It works better if your cancer hasn't metastasized—or spread—to other parts of your body.

Pros of brachytherapy

  • permits your physician to use radiation dosages greater than those used in external beam radiation treatment (EBRT).
  • lessens harm to the organs nearby
  • often has less adverse effects than EBRT
  • less time spent on treatment than EBRT

Cons of brachytherapy

  • may make urinary side effects more likely.
  • might have to stay in the hospital for the duration of the therapy
  • may need to stay away from young children and pregnant women for up to two months.
  • is limited to diseases where the tumours are easily accessible


How painful is brachytherapy?

During the surgery, you are sedated. Following the placement of the radioactive substance, you shouldn't experience any discomfort. Your body will first release tiny levels of radiation from the treated area. The danger to others is typically minimal.

How long does it take to recover from brachytherapy?

A few months are often needed to fully recover following brachytherapy. However, you can have long-term consequences that persist for a long time or, in certain situations, the remainder of your life. Resting will be necessary for you to heal.

What should I avoid after brachytherapy?

Steer clear of strenuous activities (including yard work, housekeeping, and child lifting) for at least one week. After that, you ought to be able to resume your regular activities. When you're comfortable again, you can resume your sexual activities. Ask your doctor if you need to restrict your activities if you have a permanent implant.


Compared to another cancer treatment called external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), brachytherapy is typically a painless process with several benefits.

You may have a temporary or permanent implant, depending on the nature of your cancer and your treatment strategy. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of brachytherapy with your physician to treat your cancer.

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