With internal radiation therapy, the source of radiation is put inside your body near or in the cancer cells. This allows higher doses of radiation treatment in a smaller part of your body resulting in more cancer-killing power at the site without extensive damage to healthy cells. You may also get internal radiation along with other types of treatment, including external beam radiation, chemotherapy, or surgery.
One form of internal radiation therapy is called brachytherapy in which the radiation source is a solid in the form of seeds, ribbons, or capsules. Brachytherapy may be used with people who have cancers of the head, neck, breast, uterus, cervix, prostate, gall bladder, esophagus, eye, and lung.
Internal radiation can also be in a liquid form. You receive liquid radiation by drinking it, by swallowing a pill, or through an IV. The radiation travels throughout your body, seeking out and killing cancer cells. Liquid forms of internal radiation are most often used with people who have thyroid cancer or non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
You will meet with your Riverside oncologist or nurse before you begin treatment. Your oncologist or nurse will discuss radiation therapy, its benefits for your situation, side effects and how to care for yourself during and after treatment. Your cancer team will develop a treatment plan for you. During this appointment you may undergo:
A physical exam
- A review of your medical history
- Additional blood work
- X-rays and imaging tests to define the places in your body that will get radiation or treatment fields.
Most brachytherapy is put in place through a catheter or applicator tube.
- The tube is put into your body while you are under anesthesia or a local anesthetic.
- Radiation is placed inside the catheter or applicator.
- Once the radiation source is inside of you, your body will give off radiation. With brachytherapy, your body fluids (urine, sweat, and saliva) will not give off radiation. With liquid radiation, your body fluids will give off radiation for a while.
There are three types of brachytherapy:
Low dose rate implants
- The radiation source stays in place for 1 to 7 days.
- A hospital stay is likely.
High-dose rate implants
- The radiation source is in place for 10 to 20 minutes at a time and then taken out.
- Treatment frequency depends on your type of cancer. Typically, treatment is twice a day for 2 to 5 days or once a week for 2 to 5 weeks.
- During the course of treatment, your catheter or applicator may stay in place, or it may be put in place before each treatment.
- You may be in the hospital during this time, or you may make daily trips to the hospital to have the radiation implants.
- Radiation is put in place using a catheter.
- The implants stay in your body.
- The radiation gets weaker over time. Eventually almost all radiation will go away.
- Limit your time around other people and do not spend time around children or pregnant women when the radiation is first put in place.
How long the radiation is in place depends on which type of brachytherapy you get, your type of cancer, where the cancer is in your body, your health, and other cancer treatments you have had.
High dose treatment safety measures
If the radiation you receive is a very high dose, safety measures may include:
- Staying in a private hospital room to protect others from radiation coming from your body.
- Being treated quickly by nurses and other hospital staff. They will provide all the care you need, but they may stand at a distance and talk with you from the doorway to your room.
- Visitors may not be allowed to visit when the radiation is first put in.
- After a length of time, visitors may be allowed to short visits or 30 minutes of less each day.
- Not having visits from children younger than 18 and pregnant women.
You may also need to follow safety measures once you leave the hospital, such as not spending much time with other people. Your doctor or nurse will talk with you about the safety measures you should follow when you go home.
- You will get medicine for pain before the catheter or applicator is removed.
- The area where the catheter or applicator was might be tender for a few months.
- There is no radiation in your body after the catheter or applicator is removed. It is safe for people to be near you - even young children and pregnant women.
- For 1 to 2 weeks, you may need to limit activities that take a lot of effort. Ask your doctor what kinds of activities are safe for you.