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Radiotherapy wires

This type of internal radiotherapy treatment uses radioactive wires, tubes and needles. It is used for a number of different types of cancer.

Cancers treated by wires

Radioactive metal wires, tubes and needles give radiotherapy treatment to the area of the cancer.

It is not a common treatment but is sometimes used for cancer in the:

  • mouth or lip
  • prostate
  • the part of the throat that connects to your nose (nasopharynx)
  • breast
  • vagina
  • oesophagus
  • lung
  • penis
  • tube from the bladder to outside the body (urethra)

Having radiotherapy wires

There are 2 main ways of using radiotherapy wires, tubes or needles. Giving radiotherapy in this way is called brachytherapy.

Doctors put very thin radioactive wires into your body close to the cancer. They do this while you are under a general or local anaesthetic in the operating room. Or, they might use fine hollow needles or tubes, and then put a radioactive metal into the hollow tubes. 

You usually have an x-ray afterwards to make sure that the wires are in the right position. This might be the only type of radiotherapy that you have. Or you might also have external radiotherapy.

While you have the wires in your body, you need to stay in a separate room. Staff and visitors need to follow safety procedures until the wires are removed. This is usually after 3 to 4 days, but could be up to a week depending on which part of your body is being treated.

Radiotherapy wires in your mouth

Wires in your mouth can be very uncomfortable. They can make eating and talking difficult.

You might need to have a soft or liquid diet while the needles are in place. Your nurse shows you how to keep your mouth clean by using a mouthwash.

Coping with isolation

You usually need to stay by yourself in a room, and have limited contact with other people. This is because the wires are radioactive and the radiation can affect others.

Staying in a single room can feel lonely. Some people find it frightening. It can help to talk to the nurses about your worries. They can reassure you.

Taking in some of your personal things can make the room feel more homely. Books, photographs and an ornament or two can brighten it up.

You can also take in a mobile phone, laptop, electronic tablet or music player to make the time pass more enjoyably and keep in touch with friends and family.

Removing the wires

Your doctor or nurse takes the wires out once you have had the correct dose of radiation. This might be:

  • after 2 days, if the wires are a booster treatment after external radiotherapy
  • or up to a week if you have it as your only treatment

You have painkillers before removing the wires, and gas and air is also available. You might also have a local or general anaesthetic.

Side effects of radiotherapy wires

Once the wires are taken out, the area feels sore for up to 2 or 3 weeks. Your nurses give you painkillers to take.

Other side effects depend on the area being treated. A member of your radiotherapy treatment team can tell you what to expect.

Information and help

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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.