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Internal radiotherapy with radioactive metal

Brachytherapy uses specialised equipment to put one or more small radioactive metal pellets or seeds inside the body close to the cancer.

Depending on your cancer type, you might have the radioactive pellets inside you for a few minutes or close to an hour. The pellets are then removed. Or you might have small, radioactive seeds put into the body that stay there permanently.

You might need to stay overnight in the hospital or attend several outpatient appointments over a few weeks.

You can have brachytherapy alone or in combination with other cancer treatments.

How you have brachytherapy

You might have brachytherapy using: 

  • radioactive pellets
  • radioactive seeds

Radioactive pellets 

Radioactive pellets are put into your body using applicators. Applicators are hollow tubes that your doctor or radiographer puts inside or close to the area of cancer. 

One or more radioactive metal pellets travel out of the brachytherapy machine, through the applicators to the area of cancer. The metal gives a dose of radiotherapy to the cancer. 

You might be in the operating theatre when the applicators are put in. Or you might be in the radiotherapy room.  There are different types of applicators for different parts of the body. Whether or not you have anaesthetic depends on the type of brachytherapy you have. 

This could be over one or more treatments.

Radioactive seeds

Some treatments use radioactive seeds. Using specialised needles, the doctor puts the seeds in the area of the cancer. The seeds stay there permanently. They are tiny and release a small amount of radiation, that reduces over time.

You usually have either general anaesthetic so that you're asleep for the procedure. Or you might have a spinal or epidural anaesthetic. You will be awake with this but won't be able to feel anything. 

After treatment

The radioactive pellets stay inside your body for a few minutes or so. They then pass back through the applicator to the machine. Once they're gone you are no longer radioactive. You can usually go home the same day, or the next day.

If you have permanent radioactive seeds, you might need to stay in hospital overnight before you can go home and be around other people. Or you might stay in to recover from the general anaesthetic. 

Side effects

Side effects will depend on the type of treatment you have and the part of the body being treated. Your doctor, specialist nurse or radiographer will advise you on aftercare and any side effects.

Internal radiotherapy for your type of cancer

Information and help

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