Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine use both internal and external forms of radiation therapy to treat cancer. Brachytherapy is an internal therapy in which the radiation source is placed inside the body.

Proton, IMRT, Gamma Knife® and more conventional X-ray therapies are external therapies. These treatments are delivered by machines located outside the body. Internal radiation therapy involves placing the radiation source into a small implant and placing it near the cancer site.

Brachytherapy involves placing radioactive implants, such as metal pellets, seeds, ribbons, wires, needles, capsules, or tubes in small sealed holders inside the body. The implants may be left in the body for only a short time, or may be left in place permanently. This allows the doctor to give a high dose of radiation to a smaller area than is possible with external radiation treatment.

The implant is placed in a hospital operating room by a doctor using an imaging test (such as an X-ray or MRI) to look at the exact area where the radiation needs to be to most effectively treat the cancer.

The Advantage to Patients

There are several advantages to brachytherapy:
  • Shorter treatment period.
  • Fewer or more mild side effects.
  • Therapy is delivered on an outpatient basis.

Types of Cancer Treated with Brachytherapy