High dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy, also sometimes called internal radiation therapy, is a type of treatment that uses a radioactive device or implant placed inside the body. Because the device delivers a high dose of radiation to a limited area, much of the surrounding healthy tissue is spared. Out of all the forms of radiation therapy, it is one of the most focused and precise. HDR can be used to treat various forms of cancer, such as:

Our radiation oncologists at Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers provide HDR radiation at our locations throughout Denver and Boulder to treat multiple types of cancer. 

Why HDR Brachytherapy?

The main advantage of using a highly focused form of radiation therapy is its extreme precision which limits how much healthy tissue is affected during treatment. With no external energy waves passing through your body, you avoid many of the skin side effects common with external beam radiation. The beam isn’t penetrating other organs, besides your skin, to reach the cancer by directing the treatment directly at the cancer. Additionally, because HDR is so targeted, it is likely you’ll have fewer side effects and a faster recovery time. 

HDR brachytherapy is performed as a short series of outpatient procedures. This differs from low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy, which places radioactive materials inside the body for extended periods of time. In comparison to LDR, it’s the high energy of the source used in HDR brachytherapy (usually Iridium-192) that allows your RMCC radiation oncologist to deliver equivalent doses of radiation in a much shorter amount of time.

How Brachytherapy Is Performed

To begin with, your Rocky Mountain Cancer Centers radiation oncologist will perform a computed tomography (CT) scan or another imaging scan to determine the exact location for the radioactive materials. Then, they will insert applicators, usually catheters, during a minor outpatient surgical procedure. The implants, in the form of pellets or seeds, are delivered to the cancer site through the applicators with the use of a computer to help guide them to the correct location. The implant may be placed in or near the tumor (called interstitial) or in a body cavity such as the uterus (called intracavity).

After a short time has passed, often less than 30 minutes, the implant is removed. For some cancers, such as breast cancer, the implant may be left in for days. Your RMCC radiation oncologist will discuss the frequency and duration of your therapy, which depends on the type and stage of cancer you have and the personalized recommendation of your radiation oncologist. No radiation is left in your body once you complete HDR brachytherapy treatment in the office.

With HDR brachytherapy, there is little discomfort and you will not have to spend long amounts of time immobile during treatment. In some cases, though, you may feel some pain at the site of the applicators. You may also feel some nausea or discomfort from the radiation itself. Fortunately, symptoms usually resolve soon after the treatment session.

Your RMCC radiation oncologist will talk to you about whether this treatment is right for your cancer and how long you need to receive HDR radiation treatment.