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Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine use both internal and external forms of radiation therapy to treat cancer. Brachytherapy is also called internal radiation therapy where radiation sources are placed directly into or near the tumor inside the body.

Brachytherapy is often used in the treatment of cancers of prostate, skin, uterus, cervix, and head and neck, as well as other tumors. Sometimes brachytherapy can either supplement external radiation, or entirely replace surgery in the treatment of these cancers.

Brachytherapy at Penn Medicine involves placing various temporary applicators such as catheters (hollow tubes) inside the patient. Through these hollow tubes, a radioactive source temporarily delivers radiation treatment to the tumor. This allows delivery of a high dose of radiation to a much smaller area than possible with external beam radiation therapy. Depending on the cancer type, brachytherapy applicators may be implanted either in the office or in a short outpatient hospital procedure.

Proton therapy, intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), gamma knife, and other types of X-ray therapies are external beam treatments that deliver treatment from the outside in. Brachytherapy may cause fewer side effects than external radiation in certain disease sites, and the overall treatment time is usually shorter with brachytherapy.

Brachytherapy is a type of procedure, and requires the significant expertise and experience at Penn Medicine to safely and effectively deliver. We used advanced imaging modalities, such as MRI, ultrasound, and CT to ensure accurate and safe delivery of brachytherapy in the correct part of the body.

Advantages of Brachytherapy

There are several advantages to brachytherapy:
  • Shorter treatment period.
  • Fewer or more mild side effects.
  • Therapy is delivered on an outpatient basis.
  • As effective as surgery or external beam radiation for certain cancers.
  • The patient is at no risk to family members, children, or pregnant women.

Types of Cancer Treated with Brachytherapy