Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey
195 Little Albany Street
New Brunswick, NJ 08903-2681
If you have certain types of cancer, your doctor may recommend brachytherapy, also called internal radiation therapy.
The cells in the body grow and divide as part of the normal cell cycle.
The cell’s nucleus controls this process.
Inside each nucleus, genetic material, called DNA, contains the instructions for directing this process.
Sometimes the cell’s DNA becomes damaged.
Normally, the DNA responds by either repairing itself, or instructing the cell to die.
In cancer, however, the parts of the cell’s DNA that direct cell division become damaged.
Damage to these sections prevents DNA from repairing itself or instructing the cell to die.
Instead, the unrepaired DNA causes the cell to grow and divide uncontrollably into more damaged cells, called cancer cells.
A tumor forms as the cancer cells multiply and displace the normal cells.
Brachytherapy treats cancer in the following organs: the breasts;
the digestive system organs, such as the esophagus,
and the bile duct underneath your liver;
the female reproductive system organs, such as the uterus, cervix, and vagina;
the prostate gland in men; the rectum;
the skin; the head and neck area; and the lungs.
Brachytherapy is a cancer treatment where radioactive material is placed near the cancer.
Depending on your procedure, radioactive wires, ribbons, or pellets, called “seeds,” are placed directly into or near your cancer tumor.
The radiation from the brachytherapy kills cancer cells by inflicting overwhelming damage to their DNA.
The tumor shrinks as the cells stop dividing and die.
The two main types of brachytherapy are temporary and permanent.
If you have temporary brachytherapy, your doctor will insert a delivery device, such as a bronchoscope, to get as close to the cancer as possible.
Temporary brachytherapy is usually a high-dose source of radioactive material that will treat your cancer for several minutes.
Once the treatment time is over, the radiation source will be removed.
If you have permanent brachytherapy, your doctor will implant radioactive “seeds” that will stay in your body and emit a low-dose of continuous radiation.
The seeds will get weaker over time and gradually stop emitting radiation.
Brachytherapy may be used along with external-beam radiation therapy, or other cancer treatments.
However, the advantages of brachytherapy over external-beam radiation include
a higher, more targeted dose of radiation in a shorter period of time,
and less exposure of nearby normal tissue to radiation.