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Brachytherapy uses a tiny radioactive source (sometimes called a seed) placed inside the body to kill tumor cells. It is also known as internal radiation therapy.

Sometimes, radiation oncologists prescribe brachytherapy as the only treatment for certain cancers. Other times it is used along with other treatments. It is most often used in treating certain sarcomas and retinoblastoma.

The radiation therapy team will explain the treatment to the patient and family.

The treatment process

The number of treatments depends on the type of tumor, where it is in the body, and if the patient will have other types of treatment.

The patient will either stay in the hospital during the treatment period or will travel to the hospital daily.

Each pediatric center is different, but the treatment process will follow a similar schedule:

  • The patient will have surgery to remove the tumor. During that surgery, the radiation oncologist will place catheters (thin tubes) that lead to the tumor. Parts of the catheters will stay outside of the skin. The tube itself is not radioactive.
  • The next day, the patient will have a CT scan to make sure the catheters are in the correct position and to help plan the radiation delivery.
  • Three to four days later the radiation oncologist will start the radiation treatments. A radiation therapist will take the patient to a room called the high dose rate room (HDR room). The nurse will remove the bandage covering the catheters. The radiation oncologist will connect the catheters to a machine that contains the radioactive sources. These sources are no bigger than sesame seeds. The patient will not feel them.
  • When everything is connected, the staff will leave the room. No one but the patient may be in the HDR room when the treatment is being delivered.
  • The machine will send the radioactive sources automatically into the catheters to deliver a treatment. The treatment will last about 10–15 minutes. After the treatment, the sources will leave the patient and return to the machine automatically. There is no risk for anyone who will be around the patient between treatments, including pregnant women.
  • The radiation oncologist will disconnect the machine from the catheters. Then, the nurse will cover the catheters with another bandage.

The medical team will remove the catheters after the last treatment.

The patient will return for follow-up visits with the radiation oncologist.

Reviewed: June 2018