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High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy for Gynecological Cancer

January 18, 2023

By Jamone Williams, Physicist at Alliance Cancer Care

Brachytherapy is a type of radiation therapy that is delivered by placing radioactive sources into or near the area to be treated. The word “brachy” in Greek means short, and this type of treatment travels only a short distance into the body. This has both advantages and disadvantages. On the one hand, having the radiation only travel a short distance means that other organs may have less exposure to radiation treatment; however, this also means that the tumor may not have adequate treatment unless the radiation is placed very near to the tumor, if not within the tumor.

At Alliance Cancer Care (ACC) we offer treatment with High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy. HDR Brachytherapy is frequently used to treat cancers of the cervix and uterus. Treatment involves delivering radiation therapy by temporarily placing a small, encapsulated radioactive source into or near the tumor. Treatment is typically performed on an outpatient basis, and you will typically require two to five treatments. 

Doctor with patient

Tumor specific applicators are placed by your radiation oncologist.  Depending on the type of cancer, applicators may be placed in the hospital under anesthesia or placed in our office at ACC. Once the applicators are in place, we acquire computed tomography (CT) images for use in treatment planning. A patient specific treatment plan will be developed by our physics team in collaboration with your radiation oncologist.

At ACC, we deliver HDR Brachytherapy treatments with the Varian Bravos™ Afterloader system. The remote afterloader allows us to safely deliver your treatment while limiting exposure to staff. 

Once the treatment plan is ready, our staff will connect the applicators to the remote afterloader, and exit the room. A member of our physics team will complete safety checks and confirm that we are ready to begin treatment.

During treatment, the radioactive sources move into the positions determined in your treatment plan for the calculated period of time, typically 3 to 15 minutes. Your treatment time may vary slightly between each treatment. Once treatment is complete, the source will return to the afterloader. No radiation is left in your body. Our staff will remove the applicators, and you are free to go home.

Your doctor will discuss possible side effects of treatment, but treatments are typically very well tolerated. You are generally able to do usual daily activities the same day as your treatments, if you feel able.