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Radiotherapy wires

Nurse and patients talking about cancer

This page tells you about internal radiotherapy using radioactive wires. There is information about

 

Cancers treated by wires

Radioactive wires may be used to treat a number of cancers including those in the

 

Having radiotherapy wires

There are 2 main ways of using radiotherapy wires. 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 anaesthetic in the operating room. Or, they may use fine hollow needles or tubes and then put a radioactive metal such as caesium or iridium into the hollow tubes. 

You may have an X-ray afterwards to make sure that the wires are in the right position. You may hear the doctors call the wires an implant. You may have all your radiotherapy this way. Or you may also have external radiotherapy.

While you have the wires in your body, you stay in a separate room. Staff and visitors will need to follow internal radiotherapy safety procedures until the wires are removed. This is usually after 3 to 4 days, but may be up to a week depending on which part of your body is being treated. You may have the wires taken out under general anaesthetic as this can be painful.

Implants in your mouth can be very uncomfortable. They can make eating and talking difficult. You may need to have a soft or liquid diet while the needles are in place. Your nurse will show you how to keep your mouth clean by using a mouthwash.

 

Coping with isolation

Being looked after 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

The wires are taken out once you have had the correct dose of radiation. This may 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
 

Side effects of radiotherapy wires

Once the implant is taken out the area will feel sore for up to 2 or 3 weeks afterwards. Your nurses will give you painkillers to take.

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

 

More information about radiotherapy

We have detailed information about the different types of internal radiotherapy in this section.

There is also detailed information about the side effects of radiotherapy.

You can phone the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040. The lines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They will be happy to answer any questions that you have.

Our general organisations page gives details of people who can provide information about radiotherapy. Some organisations can put you in touch with a cancer support group. Our cancer and treatments reading list has information about books, leaflets and other resources about radiotherapy treatment.

If you want to find people to share experiences with online, you could use Cancer Chat, our online forum.

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Updated: 30 April 2014