What to Expect from Your Internal Radiation Therapy

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What to Expect from Your Internal Radiation Therapy

Going through cancer treatment is never easy. It is intimidating, at the least. There are many procedures and treatments to understand when making decisions for your best health. One of those options for many cancer patients is internal radiation therapy.

To plan your internal radiation therapy, you will have a one to two hour meeting with your treatment professionals. You undergo a physical exam, review your medical history and possibly undergo some imaging tests. Your doctor reviews your internal radiation therapy plan, as well as its benefits, side effects and self-care for after the treatment. All of this information helps you make an informed decision about internal radiation therapy.

Internal radiation therapy is also called brachytherapy.

The Brachytherapy Process

Brachytherapy involves insertion of a small, stretchy tube known as a catheter into the area where you need radiation treatment. The doctor may use an applicator to insert and guide the catheter, depending on your cancer type.

There are several techniques for placing your brachytherapy. These include:

  • Interstitial brachytherapy, placing the radiation source in the tumor – such as for prostate cancer
  • Intracavity brachytherapy, placing the radiation source in a body cavity or one created through surgery – such as for cervical or endometrial cancer
  • Episcleral brachytherapy, placing the radiation source on the eye – such as for melanoma of the eye

Once your catheter is in place, the radiation source is inserted through this catheter. The radiation source stays in place according to your specific treatment needs. Sometimes it remains for a few minutes. Other radiation takes place over several days or even a lifetime.

Three Types of Brachytherapy

The types of brachytherapy include:

  • Low dose rate implants (LDR), leaving the radiation source for one to seven days – usually while you remain in hospitalized
  • High dose rate implants (HDR), leaving the radiation source in your body for ten to 20 minutes before removal – sometimes as a course of treatment taking place twice per day for two to five days or on another schedule, either while you remain hospitalized or make trips to an outpatient facility
  • Permanent implants, leaving the implants in your body throughout your lifetime – the radiation source depletes itself over a long period of time and becoming weaker each day

You Give Off Radiation with Internal Radiation Therapy

Your body fluids – urine, sweat and saliva – give off radiation for a period of time with another type of radiation treatment, systemic radiation. But brachytherapy is different. It is not your body fluids giving off radiation, but your radiation source inside your body that does. If you are on a very high dose of brachytherapy, you may need to take some precautions, including:

  • Protecting others from your radiation by staying in a private hospital room
  • Gaining quick treatment from hospital personnel who may remain at a safe distance from you, talk to you from outside the hospital room and wear protective clothing
  • Your visitors may have to use some precautions, including:
    • Not visiting for a period of time
    • Checking with medical staff before entering your room
    • Visiting only from the doorway to your room
    • Keeping visits to a minimum and for short periods
    • Not visiting if they are pregnant or in infancy
  • Following safety measures upon leaving the hospital, such as not accepting visitors

When Your Catheter Is Removed

When removing your catheter, you will receive medicine to numb the area before the procedure. You may experience some tenderness of the catheter area for several months. After the catheter comes out others can visit you and enjoy your company, as you no longer have radiation in your body. You may need to limit your strenuous activities for a few weeks, however.

Cancer Treatment Right Here in Maricopa County

Arizona Center for Cancer Care provides more than 35 offices and 55 physicians across Maricopa County for your cancer treatment. Whether you live in the Northeast Valley, Southeast Valley or West Valley, you benefit from the best physicians, leading treatment technologies and most up-to-date research in the country, right near your home.