(Ionizing Radiation; Radiotherapy; Brachytherapy)
by Editorial Staff And Contributors
Radiation therapy (RT) treats cancer and other diseases. It uses high-energy particles. These break the DNA in the cancer cells. The cells can’t grow or split after RT.
There are 2 main types of RT:
You doctor may want to use both. Surgery, chemotherapy, and therapy to spark the immune system to fight infection may also be used.
This fact sheet will focus on internal RT.
Reasons for Procedure
The doctor may use RT to:
RT treats solid tumors, such as:
Internal RT does not cause your body to become radioactive. It can cause side effects. The RT harms healthy cells and cancer cells.
Here are some problems you may have:
Talk to your doctor about the problems you may have.
Other things that may raise the risk of problems are:
You should not be around radiation if you are pregnant or could be pregnant. It could harm the growing fetus.
What to Expect
Prior to Procedure
You may need:
Description of the Procedure
The doctor will put the radiation source on or near the problem site in your body. This gives you higher doses in a shorter time. The sources are in the form of wires, seeds, or rods. This method is for cancers of the:
The 2 main types of internal RT are:
How Long Will It Take?
The time it takes varies. Your cancer type and method of internal RT play a role.
Will It Hurt?
Anesthesia prevents pain. You may be sore after. It depends on where the material was placed.
Average Hospital Stay
You will stay in the hospital until the doctor takes the implant out. If you had a permanent one, you will stay until the radioactivity is lower. The doctor takes out high-dose ones in minutes. Low-dose ones may stay in for a few days. Permanent ones lose their effect within a few days.
You will return to a room while the implant is in place. You will follow these safety steps:
Your doctor will want to see you at least once a week. You may have routine blood tests to check on your progress.
After RT is done, you will have fixed visits. The doctor will check your healing and make sure the RT worked. Care may also mean more testing, medicines, or rehabilitation.
Call Your Doctor
Call your doctor if you have:
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Cancer Society
Radiology Info—Radiological Society of North America
Canadian Association of Radiologists
Canadian Cancer Society
Bracytherapy. Radiological Society of North America Radiology Info website. Available at: https://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=brachy. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Radiation. Oncolink, University of Pennsylvania Cancer Center website. Available at: https://www.oncolink.org/cancer-treatment/radiation. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Radiation therapy. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/treatment-types/radiation.html. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Radiation therapy for cancer. National Cancer Institute website. Available at: https://www.cancer.gov/about-cancer/treatment/types/radiation-therapy/radiation-fact-sheet. Accessed January 28, 2021.
Last reviewed January 2021 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Mohei Abouzied, MD, FACP