What is Prostate Brachytherapy?

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  • Written By: Emma Lloyd
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 26 December 2019
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Prostate brachytherapy is a type of radiotherapy used to treat prostate cancer. This treatment, also called prostate seed implantation, is a very effect method of treating prostate cancer, with the additional benefit of causing fewer side effects than conventional radiotherapy does. Prostate brachytherapy involves the implantation of tiny radioactive particles directly into the prostate gland. These particles emit radiation that kills cancer cells in the prostate.

Conventional radiotherapy is called external beam radiotherapy. This treatment involves the use of a beam of ionizing radiation emitted by a linear accelerator, a piece of equipment which generates radiation via microwave technology. The ionizing radiation beam is concentrated and targeted to a patient’s tumor to kill cancer cells. This method produces significant side effects, because even though the radiation is targeted as specifically as possible, surrounding tissues are damaged.


By contrast, prostate brachytherapy uses an internal sources of radiation, called seeds, which are implanted directly into the prostate gland. The microscopic seeds are implanted using a hollow needle inserted into the skin behind the scrotum. The insertion of the seeds is aided with the use of ultrasound images, which are taken at a prior appointment and examined to determine the best locations to embed the seeds. The seed insertion takes two to three hours, and the patient is allowed to go home after a recovery period of one to two hours. The next day, the patient must undergo a follow-up scan to ensure that the seeds have been implanted correctly.

Another major difference between brachytherapy and external beam radiotherapy is that the radioactive seeds emit radiation that is capable of traveling only a very short distance. This means that the radiation is much more specifically targeted to the tumor, because when the seeds are implanted in the right place, the radiation does not travel far enough to affect healthy tissue surrounding the prostate.

The radiation emitted by the seeds does not affect surrounding tissues, so prostate brachytherapy causes fewer side effects than conventional external beam radiotherapy does. In addition, when side effects do occur, they usually are less severe. Someone who has brachytherapy for prostate cancer might experience swelling and tenderness at the site where the seeds were implanted. Most men find that over-the-counter medications are sufficient to alleviate any pain they experience after the treatment.

Prostate brachytherapy is a treatment option for men with early stage prostate cancer, which means that the cancer has not spread from the prostate gland to other tissues. If the cancer has spread, brachytherapy generally is not a good alternative to external beam radiotherapy. Brachytherapy also can be a good treatment alternative for men who are unable to undergo a radical prostatectomy.



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