High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy. This process uses a radioactive device or implant placed inside the body. The device delivers a high dose of radiation to a limited area, sparing much of the surrounding tissue. It is one of the most focused, precise forms of radiation therapy. HDR can be used to treat various forms of cancer, such as:

Why HDR Brachytherapy?

The main advantage of using a highly focused form of radiation therapy is that it limits how much healthy tissue is affected during treatment. With no external energy waves passing through your body, you avoid many of the skin side effects common with external beam radiation. People receiving this therapy also tend to have a faster recovery and fewer side effects because it is so targeted. By directing the treatment directly at the cancer, the beam isn’t penetrating other organs, besides your skin, to reach the cancer.

How is the Brachytherapy Performed?

Your doctor will perform a computed tomography (CT) scan or another imaging scan to determine the exact location for the radioactive materials. Then, he or she will insert applicators, usually catheters, during a minor outpatient surgical procedure. The implants, in the form of pellets or seeds, are delivered to the cancer site through the applicators. A computer helps guide the implants to the correct location. The implant may be placed in or near the tumor (called interstitial) or in a body cavity such as the uterus (called intracavity).

The implant is left in for a set amount of time, often less than 30 minutes, and then removed. For some cancers, such as breast cancer, the implant may be left in for days. Your doctor will discuss the frequency and duration of your therapy. HDR brachytherapy is given on an outpatient basis. The length of treatment depends on your type and stage of cancer and your doctor's personalized recommendation. No radiation is left in your body once you complete HDR brachytherapy treatment in the office.

There is little discomfort and patients do not have to spend long amounts of time immobile during treatment. You may feel some pain at the site of the applicators, and the implants used to deliver the radiation may cause some nausea or discomfort. Symptoms usually resolve soon after the treatment session.

Your radiation oncologist will talk to you about whether this treatment is right for your cancer and how long you need to receive HDR radiation treatment.