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Internal Radiation Therapy


Internal radiation therapy, also called brachytherapy, is a type of radiation to treat cancer. The source of radiation is placed in your body or on an area of your body close to the tumor. It is used to shrink the tumor or kill the cancer cells. Brachytherapy may be used with other treatments such as external radiation therapy, medicines, and surgery.


Before your procedure:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • Enema: You may need to have an enema if you have prostate cancer and need a surgery. An enema is liquid put into your rectum to help empty your bowel.
  • An IV is a small tube placed in your vein that is used to give you medicine or liquids.
  • Anesthesia:
    • General anesthesia: This is medicine that may be given in your IV or as a gas that you breathe. You may wear a face mask or have a tube placed in your mouth and throat. This tube is called an endotracheal tube or ET tube. Usually you are asleep before healthcare providers put the tube into your throat. The ET tube is usually removed before you wake up. You are completely asleep during your treatment.
    • Local anesthesia: This is a shot of numbing medicine put into the skin where you will have treatment. You may feel pressure or pushing during your treatment, but you should not have pain. You will be awake during the treatment. With monitored anesthesia care, you will also be given medicine through an IV. This medicine keeps you relaxed and drowsy during the treatment.
  • Tests:
    • Blood tests: These may be done to check your blood count or to check the function of your organs.
    • Ultrasound: An ultrasound uses sound waves to show pictures on a monitor. An ultrasound may be done to show the size, shape, and location of your tumor.
    • CT scan: This test is also called a CAT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures inside your body. The pictures may show the size, shape, and location of the tumor. You may be given dye before the pictures are taken to help healthcare providers see the pictures better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye.
    • MRI: This scan uses powerful magnets and a computer to take pictures of your body. An MRI is used to check around your tumor for other problems. You may be given dye to help the pictures show up better. Tell the healthcare provider if you have ever had an allergic reaction to contrast dye. Do not enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if you have any metal in or on your body.

During your procedure:

The brachytherapy seeds will be placed on your skin, in an organ, or in a body cavity. The way that brachytherapy is given depends on where the tumor or tumors are in your body.

  • Your healthcare provider will give you medicine to numb a body area or make you fall asleep. You may be given antibiotic medicine through your IV to help prevent infection. Your healthcare provider may use a CT scan, MRI, or ultrasound to help him put seeds inside or around your tumor.
  • If your tumor is inside or near a body cavity, catheters (soft, hollow tubes) and brachytherapy seeds may be placed inside an organ or body cavity. By using catheters, your healthcare provider can control how long the seeds stay inside your body. The catheters are left inside your body if you need to have several treatment sessions. The catheter will be removed when your treatment is done. Some tumors are close to the skin surface. A device may be used to push seeds through the skin into those tumors. If your tumor is hard to reach, your healthcare provider may have to perform surgery to place the seeds or catheters close to your tumor. Healthcare providers may remove your tumor during surgery, and then place brachytherapy seeds or catheters in that area. You may need another surgery at a later date to remove the seeds.

After your procedure:

You may be taken to a room where healthcare providers will watch you closely for problems. Do not get out of bed until your healthcare provider says it is okay. Later, you may be taken back to your hospital room, or you may be able to go home. If your brachytherapy seeds were left in, healthcare providers will talk to you about radiation safety at home.


  • Radiation kills cancer cells, but it can also harm healthy cells. You may feel very tired during brachytherapy treatment. You may cough up blood or have blood in your saliva. You may be at an increased risk for urinary tract infections. You may have swelling and pain in organs or tissues. Women may have trouble getting pregnant. Your stomach, bowels, and other organs may not work as well as before, or they may stop working.
  • Without internal radiation therapy, tumors can grow bigger and damage tissues around them. You can get very weak, lose weight, and have pain. It may be very hard for your body to heal. Cancer cells may spread and grow into new tumors in other parts of your body. These tumors can cause organ failure.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.

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The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about Internal Radiation Therapy (Inpatient Care)

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