What is Brachytherapy?

What is brachytherapy, or internal radiation? In the medical community, this procedure is known as a life-saver and an important approach in today’s patient remedy. Here’s the scoop on this modern cancer-fighting tool.

Core Definition, Function

Also known as IR, or internal radiation, brachytherapy is the use of radioactive materials in the body for the purpose of tumor shrinkage and cancer cell elimination. Different from many other forms of radiation therapies commonly used in cancer treatment, IR is able to affect a much more concentrated area of the body.

Related resource: Top 10 Best Online Health Science Degree Programs

IR is usually performed in cases of vaginal, rectal, colon, and other cancers of the lower orifices of the body, although it has been successfully utilized elsewhere. Here, a radiation device often referred to as a “seed” is placed in the orifice. This is actually a type of implant, but is easily removed by the overseeing physician once treatment is no longer needed. In some cases though, the implant is left in place permanently.


The procedure of having the IR seed implanted is relatively quick, requiring just one out-patient visit along with an overnight stay for initial monitoring. Placement is performed by inserting the implant using a placement device or needle in the location of best use after spinal anesthesia has been administered. A catheter is also commonly installed so as to help the patient pass urine, which may be of some difficulty in the early stages of the implant’s placement within the body.

After the procedure and a release to go home has been issued, there is a care period in which the patient must be careful in a number of capacities. Normal eating and drinking can immediately resume, but physical activity must be very limited. Anything that will require straining or physical force is strongly recommended against, especially in the first week of post-procedural recovery and adjustment.

Additional Specs of Interest


Interestingly, this type of radiation treatment goes all the way back to 1901. It was at this time, only five years after the actual discovery of radioactivity itself, that scientists hypothesized the insertion of such materials into or next to a cancerous tumor for the purpose of its elimination. Over a century later, this technique now stands as a true hallmark of modern medicine’s ongoing approach to cancer.

Side Effects

The side effects of this procedure are those typical of radiation exposure. Due to the concentrated dosage area and dose control, this is limited though. These kinds of side effects can include bleeding at the site and in urine, burning, and other radiation side effects. In some, rare cases, resulting incontinence and impotence have been reported.

There have been many weapons, tools, and techniques dreamt-up over the years with the intention of curing, eliminating, and even completely preventing the occurrence of cancer. Internal radiation methods such as those discussed here have really brought the science forward, thus helping countless, real people in a very real, life-and-death struggle. For more information and official resources on this subject, we recommend visiting the American Brachytherapy Society.