Brachytherapy is a type of radiotherapy which is used to treat cancer. It is often known as internal radiotherapy as it works from inside the body. This is compared to external beam radiotherapy (EBRT) which is delivered from outside the body.
Brachytherapy is the placement of small radioactive pieces of metal (sources) within the body in or very close to a cancer, enabling precise and highly targeted treatment delivery to cancers. There is minimal dose delivered to surrounding normal tissues, which protects against long-term side effects. Some forms of X-ray radiotherapy are also referred to as brachytherapy, such as Papillon radiotherapy for rectal cancer, due to the use of applicators placed inside the body to deliver precise doses of radiation directly to a cancer.
The sources can be placed in the body permanently-as in the case of very low dose rate (vLDR) prostate brachytherapy, often known as ‘seed’ brachytherapy-or on a temporary basis-as in high dose rate (HDR) cervix brachytherapy. Both methods are very safe to deliver and most patients are treated as a day case procedure or with just one overnight stay.
Brachytherapy can be used as the only treatment for a cancer, such as for early prostate cancer or as part of a combined approach with EBRT such as cervix cancer or more advanced prostate cancer.
Brachytherapy is an essential part of the curative treatment of some cancers, such as cervix cancer and endometrial cancer, but can also be used for symptom control in some areas such as oesophageal cancer. Brachytherapy can be used instead of surgery to cure a cancer in many areas, for example prostate, cervix, rectum.
Many patients ask if their brachytherapy will affect other people. If the brachytherapy is temporary then no radiation is taken away from the hospital and therefore no-one else is at risk from radiation. If the brachytherapy is permanent then there is a small amount of radiation released but at such low levels it is not damaging to those around you. However, if this applied to you, you would be given information to avoid very close contact with young children and pregnant women for a short period of time after the brachytherapy procedure.
A useful website www.aboutbrachytherapy.com gives more detailed information about brachytherapy.
St Luke’s offers a nationally leading brachytherapy service that enables patients to have more choice in their treatment options. The Consultants delivering the service are involved in National and International teaching and research ensuring quality and care for every patient.