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Internal radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer

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This page is about treatment for cancer of the food pipe (oesophagus) with radiotherapy from inside the body. Doctors often call this brachytherapy. You can find information on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Internal radiotherapy for oesophageal cancer

Internal radiotherapy means radiotherapy that you have from a source inside the body. Doctors often call this brachytherapy. Brachytherapy for oesophageal cancer is usually used to slow the growth of a cancer, rather than to try to cure it.

To have the treatment, you have a radioactive source placed inside your oesophagus for a set time. This means the radiation source delivers a very high dose of radiation directly to the cancer. But because radiation doesn't travel very far through body tissues, the surrounding tissues get a much lower dose and are not seriously affected.

How you have the treatment

There are two main ways of giving this treatment. The doctor may put the radioactive source in place during an endoscopy or with a nasogastric tube. The radioactive material is sealed inside a tube. So it cannot leak into the rest of your body. The doctor leaves the radioactive source in place for a period of time that has been precisely worked out by your radiotherapy specialist. This can be less than an hour or up to two days. You may have a single treatment or a course of several treatments.
 

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What this treatment is

Brachytherapy means radiotherapy that you have from a source inside the body, rather than from a radiotherapy machine outside the body (external radiotherapy). Brachytherapy for oesophageal cancer isn't used as often as external radiotherapy.  But when it is, it is usually used to slow the growth of a cancer, rather than to try to cure it. You may have the treatment to try to control the cancer after you've had a tube (stent) put into your oesophagus, for example.

To have the treatment, you have a radioactive source placed inside your oesophagus for a set time. This means the radiation source delivers a very high dose of radiation directly to the cancer. But because radiation doesn't travel very far through body tissues, the surrounding tissues get a much lower dose and are not seriously affected. The high radiation area is limited to about 1cm around the radioactive source.

Diagram showing internal radiotherapy for cancer of the oesophagus

 

How you have the treatment

There are two main ways of giving this treatment. You may have

The doctor may put the radioactive source in place during an endoscopy. An endoscope is like a flexible telescope that goes down your throat. It has a light and a camera, so the doctor can see directly inside the body. You will probably have had an endoscopy when you first had tests for cancer.

Before the endoscopy, you have a sedative or light anaesthetic to send you to sleep. Once you are drowsy or asleep, your doctor will put the endoscope down your throat until it reaches the area of the oesophagus that needs treating. Then, the doctor puts the radioactive source into place next to the tumour. The radioactive material is sealed inside a tube. So it cannot leak into the rest of your body. Once the sealed tube is in place, the doctor takes the endoscope out.

Another way of putting the radioactive source in place is with a nasogastric tube. This is a tube that goes up your nose, down the back of your throat and into your stomach. The radioactive source can be sealed inside the tube and then put in place so that it is next to the tumour.

The doctor leaves the radioactive source in place for a period of time that has been precisely worked out by your radiotherapy specialist. This can be less than an hour or up to 2 days. You may have a single treatment or a course of several treatments.

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Updated: 29 August 2012