Brachytherapy is a special form of internal radiation therapy where a radioactive source is placed beside or inside the tumour, to deliver radiation to small areas over a period of time.


Brachytherapy is a special form of internal radiation therapy where a radioactive source is placed beside or inside the tumour, to deliver radiation to small areas over a period of time. Brachytherapy is commonly used, but not limited to, the effective treatment of gynaecological, prostate, breast and skin cancers.

Brachytherapy is administered through either a permanent radioactive seed implant (Low Dose Rate “LDR” treatment) or through moving a radioactive source in and/or around the cancer (High Dose Rate “HDR” treatment). With HDR treatment, the radioactive source is retracted out of the body once depositing the prescribed dose by the radiation oncologist. Our radiation oncologists will discuss which treatment is suitable for you.

The benefits of brachytherapy compared with other forms of radiation treatment include:

  • Ability to deliver high localised dose
  • Rapid fall off of dose
  • Ability to sculpt dose to shape of tumour or organ of interest

Prostate cancer brachytherapy

The cause of prostate cancer is unknown, and with its incidence increasing with age, early detection is leading to potentially curable treatment. While many are referred for radical prostatectomy, or external beam radiation using conformal techniques, there are a number who are suitable for brachytherapy which has the potential advantages of convenience, relatively low morbidity and effectiveness.

LDR brachytherapy is a very targeted treatment using low energy radiation emmitted by Iodine-125. The seeds are no larger than an uncooked grain of rice, and are strategically injected to treat the prostate and minimise dose to surrounding structures.  The seeds remain radioactive between three to four months.

Seed brachytherapy offers comparable cure results  to both radical prostatectomy (including robotic surgery) and external beam radiation treatment. The choice between which treatment option is most suitable for you will depend on the management of side effects in consultation with your oncologist.

Vaginal brachytherapy

Brachytherapy can also be an effective treatment used to treat the top of the vagina to reduce the risk of cancer recurring.

At your first treatment the radiation oncologist will perform a vaginal examination to determine the size of applicators to use for your treatment. The radiation oncologist will determine which is most suitable for you.  The radiation oncologist will then insert the applicators. You may feel a little discomfort, but this should not cause you pain.

The catheters are then connected to the treatment machine, where the radiation source can pass into the applicators.  Your treatment will be given over four sessions, each session lasting about twenty minutes.

You will not require any special preparation for this treatment, and are free to go home after each treatment.

Frequently asked questions

Side effects 

  • There are very little side effects associated with vaginal brachytherapy.  This treatment will only deliver a high radiation dose to several millimetres of tissue.
  • There may be a change to your bowel habits, but this is very minimal.
  • Vaginal Stenosis (reduction in length of the vagina) has been seen in over 50% of women.  The use of a vaginal cylinder will help reduce this incidence.

Will I be radioactive?

You will not be radioactive. The radiation source will pass into the applicators and retract back into the machine once the treatment has been delivered. You will not feel, see or hear the radiation. The brachytherapy team will then scan the room to ensure the source has travelled back into the machine.  The doctor and nurse will then remove the applicators.

What happens after my brachytherapy treatment?

Before leaving, our nurses will instruct you on the use of the vaginal cylinder and provide you with Ovestin cream.  An appointment will be made to see your radiation oncologist in four to six weeks time.

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