Most cancer patients receive external-beam radiation, which is radiation delivered from a machine outside of the body. Some patients receive brachytherapy, in which high dose radiation is placed inside the body directly to a tumor site for a short period of time. This treatment limits the dose of radiation given to nearby body organs and tissues.

Before Brachytherapy Treatment

Your treatment may include placement of a stent in an operating room as an outpatient procedure. If so, you will receive medication to make you sleepy and comfortable. The stent usually remains in place until all brachytherapy treatments are complete.

Sometimes an individually-fitted applicator is placed in the body prior to therapy to guide the radiation to the tumor site.

Before each treatment you may be taken to a procedure room for examination and, if needed, a catheter will be placed in your bladder.

An x-ray, CT scan, or MRI will be taken to confirm correct placement of the applicator. The radiology team will use the images to carefully plan treatment. It generally takes about an hour. During this time you can wait with your family. You may have limited mobility during this time.

During Brachytherapy Treatment

When your plan is approved, you will be moved into a treatment room where a member of the radiation team will connect the applicator to the treatment unit. The therapy team will leave the room during therapy but will be able to see and hear you through an intercom and video camera.

The treatment machine will send radiation through the applicator. You may hear noises and feel slight movement, but the treatment is painless. The radiation source will never come in contact with your body and you will not be radioactive after treatment.

After Brachytherapy Treatment

For your safety, a handheld scanner may be used to confirm that therapy is complete. A member of the radiation team will remove your applicator and catheter in the treatment room. Before you leave, a nurse will review your discharge instructions with you.

High Dose Brachytherapy Treatments Available

Gynecological Treatments

  • Ring and tandem
  • Vaginal cuff
  • Tandem and cylinder

These are named after the type of applicators used to administer the radiation.

You Should Keep in Mind

  • It is common to receive three to six treatments, each treatment will last about 15 minutes, though each visit may takes several hours
  • You should bring someone with you as you will not be able to drive home
  • You will be told how to prepare and what to bring to the procedure

Have a question? Ask our experts at the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center today!