Brachytherapy - what patients need to know

» What are the different kinds of brachytherapy treatments?

Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive material inside the patient’s body. The treatments can be temporary, ranging in duration from several minutes to several days, or permanent. In some cases, a single temporary brachytherapy treatment is given, and in other cases, a series of treatments are administered. Temporary brachytherapy can be used, for example, in breast cancer treatment after lumpectomy surgery. In permanent brachytherapy, the implanted sources will slowly deliver the treatment over a period of weeks to months. At the end of that time, the sources are no longer radioactive and will remain inside the patient’s body. Permanent brachytherapy is used, for example, to treat prostate cancer.

» Does temporary brachytherapy treatment require hospitalization?

In most temporary brachytherapy treatments, patients stay in the hospital or radiotherapy facility for as long as the sources are inside or in contact with the body. After the sources are removed, the radiotherapy staff will perform a radiation survey to confirm that all radioactive sources were removed. Patients receiving a series of treatments are usually able to go home between treatments. Hospital staff may need to limit the time they spend in the patients’ vicinity, and there may be restrictions for visitors while the sources are present.  After the sources are removed, the restrictions are no longer needed.

» Does permanent brachytherapy treatment require hospitalization?

In some cases, patients can leave the hospital the same day the sources are implanted, while hospitalization for one or more days is required for reasons of medical recovery in other cases. The sources used in permanent brachytherapy treatments are selected to ensure that nearly all of the radiation is absorbed within the patient’s body, which means that the radiation levels surrounding them will be very low. Staff performs a radiation survey to confirm that the radiation levels surrounding patients are sufficiently low before discharging them.

Patients should be provided with a card with information about their treatment and contact information for the radiation oncologist who performed the treatment. In most cases, doctors advise patients to maintain a safe distance from pregnant women and young children for a specified time period. Prostate cancer patients may also instructed what to do if they find a dislodged source.

» What are the risks to my family of being near me after I receive implantation of permanent brachytherapy sources?

The risks are minimal. Studies have shown that radiation doses to family and household members from permanent brachytherapy treatments are acceptably low. Still, it is advisable to maintain a safe distance from pregnant women and young children for the period of time recommended by your radiation oncologist.

» Is there a chance that I could set off a security radiation monitor after implantation of permanent brachytherapy sources?

In the first months after source implantation, it is possible that the low levels of radiation from your body could be detected by the type of radiation monitor used by police and at border crossings. If this happens, show the hospital-provided card that describes the details of your treatment and contact information for the radiation oncologist who performed the treatment.

» What should I do if I am taken to an emergency room or need to be admitted to a hospital shortly after implantation of permanent brachytherapy sources?

Show emergency room or hospital staff the hospital-provided card that describes the details of your treatment and contact information for the radiation oncologist who performed the treatment.

» What should I do if I need another surgery in the same area of my body as the permanent brachytherapy treatment?

You should inform the surgeon that you had a permanent brachytherapy treatment, even if the implantation was performed several years ago. The surgeon should contact the radiation oncologist who performed the treatment to discuss proper disposal of any sources that might be removed.

» Can permanent brachytherapy patients’ bodies be cremated?

Cremation is generally permitted if at least one year has elapsed since the source implantation. The funeral director should discuss this with staff at the hospital or radiotherapy facility at which the source implantation was performed.

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