Brachytherapy is a procedure to implant radioactive "seeds" into the prostate gland to kill prostate cancer cells. Implants may be short-term or permanent. They may give off high or low amounts of radiation.
Your doctor will place an ultrasound probe into your rectum to see the area. The probe is like a camera connected to a video monitor in the room. Your doctor might also place a Foley catheter (tube) in your bladder to drain urine.
Your doctor will use ultrasound or a CT scan to plan and then place the pellets that deliver radiation into your prostate. The pellets will be placed with needles or special applicators through your perineum.
Placing the pellets may hurt a little.
Types of brachytherapy
Low-dose radiation brachytherapy is the most common type of treatment. The pellets stay inside your prostate and emit a small amount of radiation for several months. You go about your normal routine with the pellets in place.
High-dose radiation brachytherapy lasts about 30 minutes. Your doctor will insert the radioactive material into the prostate. The doctor may use a computerized robot. The radioactive material is removed after treatment.
Why the Procedure Is Performed
Brachytherapy is often used for men with smaller prostate cancer that is found early and is slow-growing. Brachytherapy has fewer complications and side effects than standard radiation therapy. You will also need fewer visits with the doctor.
Probelms emptying the bladder. You may need to have a Foley catheter (tube) in place to drain the bladder for a short period of time.
Rare problems are ulcers (sores) or fistulas (openings) in the rectum, scarring, and narrowing of your urethra (the tube that carries urine from your bladder out of your body)
Rectal urgency, or the feeling that you need to have a bowel movement right away
Skin irritation in your rectum or bleeding from your rectum
Before the Procedure
Always tell your doctor or nurse what drugs you are taking, even drugs, supplements, or herbs you bought without a prescription.
Before this procedure:
You may need to have ultrasounds, x-rays, or CT scans to prepare for the procedure.
You may be asked to stop taking drugs that make it hard for your blood to clot several days before the procedure. Some of these are aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil), clopidogrel (Plavix), and warfarin (Coumadin).
Ask your doctor which drugs you should still take on the day of the surgery.
If you smoke, try to stop. Your doctor or nurse can help.
On the day of the procedure:
You will usually be asked not to drink or eat anything for several hours before the procedure.
Take your drugs your doctor told you to take with a small sip of water.
Your doctor or nurse will tell you when to arrive at the hospital.
After the Procedure
After an outpatient therapy procedure, you can return home as soon as the anesthesia wears off. Very rarely, you will need to spend 1 to 2 days in the hospital.
If you have a permanent implant, your doctor may tell you to limit the amount of time you spend around children and women who are pregnant for a while after the procedure. After a few weeks to months, the radiation is gone and will not cause any harm. Because of this, there is no need to take out the seeds.
You may be sleepy and have some mild pain and tenderness after the procedure. If you stay in the hospital, your visitors will need to follow special radiation safety precautions.
Most people remain cancer-free or have good control of their cancer for many years after this treatment. Some urinary and rectal symptoms may last for months.
Nelson WG, Carter HB. DeWeese TL, Eisenberger MA. Prostate cancer. In: Abeloff MD, Armitage JO, Niederhuber JE, Kastan MB, McKena WG, eds. Clinical Oncology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Churchill Livingstone; 2008:chap 88.
Wilt TJ, MacDonald R, et al. Systematic review: comparative effectiveness and harms of treatments for clinically localized prostate cancer. Ann Intern Med. 2008;148:435-448.
Louis S. Liou, MD, PhD, Chief of Urology, Cambridge Health Alliance, Visiting Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.