Brachytherapy is the first and oldest form of radiotherapy. Unlike the external radiation beams, it involves the placement of radioactive material inside of the human body. There are two main types of brachytherapy: low dose rate (LDR) and high dose rate (HDR). LDR involves implanting of low-activity radioactive seeds in or near the tumor location for an extended (a few days) period or permanently. HDR involves using what is referred to as an “afterloader” which temporarily places a high-activity radioactive wire inside of the patient in or near the tumor site for a much shorter time (a few minutes). In either case, the time and location for the radioactive seeds to stay inside the body are carefully identified and calculated so that adequate radiation dose is delivered to the tumor while the surrounding normal tissues are spared.
Most patients feel little discomfort during brachytherapy. If the radioactive source is held in place with an applicator, you may feel discomfort from the applicator. There are medications that can help this. If you feel weak or queasy from the anesthesia, your radiation oncologist can give you medication to make you feel better.