Brachytherapy is a type of radiotherapy
Brachytherapy is a type of radiotherapy that can be used to treat many types of cancer.
It is sometimes known as ‘internal radiotherapy’, or when used in the treatment of prostate cancer, ‘seed therapy’.
Radiotherapy is an important method of treating cancer. It works by destroying cancer cells by targeting them with radiation and stopping them dividing and growing.
About 4 out of 10 people with cancer have some type of radiotherapy as part of their treatment.
Types of radiotherapy
There are two basic types of radiotherapy:
- External beam radiotherapy (EBRT)
How does Brachytherapy work?
Brachytherapy works by placing a source of radiation directly in or next to the cancerous tumor inside the body.
This allows the radiation to be precisely targeted to ensure the tumor receives the most effective dose to kill the cancer cells. This ‘tailored approach’ also reduces the risk of any unnecessary damage to healthy tissue and organs that are close to the tumor, therefore reducing potential side effects.
Doctors plan and deliver brachytherapy by using computer software to determine how and where the radiation should be delivered in the body. The radiation is delivered precisely and accurately to the tumor by the use of special applicators. The applicators are carefully placed in the correct position by using various imaging techniques such as ultrasound and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scans. A small source of radiation, usually held on the end of a wire, is delivered to the treatment site via the applicators.
Radiotherapy works by damaging the genetic material (also known as DNA) of cancerous cells. When brachytherapy is delivered to a tumor, the radiation damages the genetic material which prevents the cancer cells from growing and multiplying.1
What are the benefits of brachytherapy treatment?
Benefits of brachytherapy that may make it a potential treatment option compared to other cancer treatments such as external beam radiotherapy or surgery:
- Is very effective in treating cancer as the radiation is delivered with a high level of accuracy
- Has a minimized risk of side effects, due to the targeted and precise nature of delivering the radiotherapy from inside the body
- Is a minimally invasive technique – i.e. it doesn’t involve extensive surgery
- Can be performed on an outpatient basis – avoiding the need for an overnight stay in hospital in many cases
- Requires very short treatment times (typically from 1 to 5 days)
- Has short recovery times (typically 2 to 5 days) – people can usually return to everyday activities very quickly
- Requires fewer visits to the hospital and overnight stays than other options
- The benefits of brachytherapy can enable you to get back to your everyday life sooner with minimal disruption.
Your doctor will advise you on the best treatment according to your clinical situation.
Understanding the brachytherapy procedure
The exact procedure used to deliver brachytherapy depends on the type of cancer being treated.
The broad process of a brachytherapy procedure is outlined in further detail below.
- A clinical examination is performed to understand the characteristics of the cancer.
- This will include investigating the size and position of the tumor and its relation to surrounding tissues and organs.
- A range of imaging equipment, such as X-ray, Ultrasound, Computed Tomography (CT scan) and Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) are used, which allow the healthcare team to get a precise picture of the tumor.
- The clinical examination and images of the tumor help the healthcare team to plan how best to deliver the radiation.
- The planning will include consideration of:
- how to effectively deliver the radiation to the tumor
- what dose of radiation is needed
- exactly where the radiation sources should be placed in or next to the tumor