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Internal radiotherapy with radioactive metal (brachytherapy)

Find out how radioactive metal gives radiotherapy from inside the body to treat some types of cancer.

What brachytherapy is

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

Depending on your cancer, you might have the radioactive metal inside you for a few minutes or a few days. The metal is then removed. Or you might have small, radioactive seeds put into the body that stay there permanently.

Depending on the type of treatment you have, you might need to stay overnight in the hospital or attend several outpatient appointments over a few weeks.

You might have brachytherapy in combination with other cancer treatments or by itself.

How you have it

Some brachytherapy treatments are given using specialist applicators. The applicators are hollow tubes that the doctor puts into or as close to the area of cancer as possible.

There are different types of applicator for different areas of the body. You have the applicators inserted in the operating room. You either have a general anaesthetic or a spinal anaesthetic. A spinal anaesthetic means you have no feeling from below your waist.

One or more radioactive metal pellets travel out of the machine, into the applicators. The metal gives a dose of radiotherapy in the area of the cancer. You might have more than one treatment.

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 don't cause any problems.

After treatment

Once the radioactive applicators are removed, the radioactivity disappears. 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.

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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About Cancer generously supported by Dangoor Education since 2010.