Internal Radiotherapy

Understanding Internal Radiotherapy (Brachytherapy) for Cancer Treatment

Internal radiotherapy, also known as brachytherapy, is a type of cancer treatment that involves placing a radioactive source inside the body, in or near the tumour. The radioactive source emits radiation, which kills cancer cells by damaging their DNA. This type of treatment is often used for cancers located in areas that are difficult to access or where surgery may be too risky. Internal radiotherapy can be administered in several ways, depending on the type and location of the cancer being treated.

For example, a needle or catheter sometimes inserts a radioactive source into the tumour. This is known as interstitial brachytherapy. In other cases, the radioactive source is placed inside the body cavity, such as the vagina or the prostate. This is known as intracavitary brachytherapy. One advantage of internal radiotherapy is that it enables a higher radiation dose to be delivered directly to the tumour while minimising the exposure of healthy tissues to radiation.

This can lead to fewer side effects and a better chance of controlling cancer. Another advantage is that the treatment can be accomplished in a shorter period of time than external radiation therapy, which requires daily treatments over several weeks. However, internal radiotherapy also has some potential risks and side effects. The most common side effect is temporary irritation of the tissues near the radioactive source. This can cause pain, swelling, and difficulty urinating or defecating, depending on the location of the treatment.

There is also a small risk of the radioactive source moving out of place, which could cause damage to healthy tissues. To minimise these risks, a team of healthcare professionals carefully monitor patients receiving internal radiotherapy, including a medical oncologist, a medical physicist, and a radiation therapist.

The treatment plan is tailored to the individual patient’s needs, considering the type and stage of cancer and their overall health and medical history.

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