What is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy uses a radioactive source to deliver radiation close to the target, either inside a cavity or embedded in tissue. Brachytherapy may vary in invasiveness. For prostate cancer, radioactive seeds are planted inside the prostate gland directly, whereas in cervical cancer, a radioactive wire is placed within the cavity of the uterus, cervix and vagina. Brachytherapy is used to treat a number of cancers such as skin, eye, breast, prostate, lung and uterine cancer to name a few.

How does brachytherapy work?

Brachytherapy works using radioactivity placed close to or within the tumour, thus reducing the dose of radiation to healthy tissue. It is more precise than external beam radiotherapy and therefore can deliver a higher dose of radiotherapy. The number of treatments and the type of brachytherapy needed depends on the stage and type of cancer.

How is the radioactive seed implanted?

Temporary brachytherapy is performed using a delivery device such as a catheter or needle. Using imaging techniques, the delivery device is inserted into the tumour, and the radioactive seeds are placed there temporarily.

Permanent brachytherapy, also called seed implantation, involves needles that are already pre-filled with the radioactive seeds. These needles are then inserted in theatre under general anaesthetic, using imaging techniques such as ultrasound to position the seeds into the tumour. The needle is then removed, and the radioactive seed is left behind.

What can be done about the side effects?

The side effects of brachytherapy may differ depending on the type and location of the tumour. The side effects of this treatment are similar to that of external radiation therapy and may include local swelling and bruising, bleeding, pain and discomfort at the site of the seeds, as well as general fatigue. Dr Ford, however, takes pride in providing her patients with a holistic approach to cancer care in which she aids reducing the negative effects of treatment by making her patients as comfortable and pain-free as possible.