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Radiation Therapy

When Is Internal Radiation Therapy Used?

Last modified: 
24/04/2012 - 12:34

Contributing Author: Guy Slowik FRCS

Sometimes, the radiation oncologist decides the cancer is best treated using internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy. During this procedure, a radiation oncologist and/or surgeon surgically places the radiation source into or near the cancer cells.

This way, it's possible to deliver a higher total dose of radiation to a smaller area than with external treatment. By limiting the amount of radiation healthy cells receive, damage to normal cells is reduced.

Internal radiation therapy is being used to treat cancers of the head and neck, breast, uterus, thyroid, cervix, and prostate. Patients can receive both internal and external radiation therapy at the same time, or consecutively.

How Is The Implant Placed In The Body?

During the implant procedure, you receive anesthesia so you do not feel any pain. The size and location of the cancer will determine the type of implant used and how it is inserted.

Implants, also called "seeds," may be placed:

  • Directly into the tumor (interstitial radiation)
  • Inside a body cavity (intracavitary radiation) using special applicators
  • On the surface of a tumor
  • In an area from which a tumor has been removed

High-dose implants may be removed after just a few minutes or left in place a few hours. Low-dose implants usually remain longer, sometimes for a few days or even permanently. Permanent implants lose their radioactivity quickly.

Internal radiation can also be given:

  • By injecting radioactive substance solution into the blood or a body cavity
  • By mouth (orally)

Will I Be Radioactive?

Patients receiving internal radiation therapy may give off tiny amounts of radiation for a short time. These patients stay in the hospital in a private room. Healthcare professionals taking care of you may not be able to spend a long time in your room and may work quickly, but you will receive all the care you need. Visiting hours may be limited and visitors are told if they need to take special precautions.

How Long Does The Implant Stay In Place?

The amount of time that an implant is to be left in place depends on the amount of radioactivity needed for effective treatment. Your doctor makes that decision.

What Happens After A Temporary Implant Is Removed?

  • Once the implant is removed, there is no radioactivity in your body. Hospital staff and visitors can visit as long as needed.
  • Though you may need some extra sleep or rest once home, you should feel stronger quickly.
  • The treated area may be sore or sensitive for some time. Once that area is healed, you should be able to resume normal activities.
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From Andrew Maynard - Chair of the University of Michigan Department of Environmental Health Sciences, with help from David Faulkner - 2013 Master of Public Health graduate.