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All About HDR Brachytherapy

By DuPage Medical Group Radiation Oncology

High-Dose-Rate (HDR) radiation therapy, also known as HDR brachytherapy, is a form of treatment that utilizes a small radioactive “implant” to provide cancer treatment. The radioactive implant is temporarily placed directly within or near a tumor to spare/reduce radiation exposure to other organs. Brachytherapy can be as a lone method of treatment, or in combination with external beam radiation therapy, to best treat the affected area.

How HDR Brachytherapy Works

HDR brachytherapy is delivered by a machine that safely houses radioactive implants to deliver the implant to the desired treatment area through the use of catheters. These are precisely measured tubes that guide the implant to a specific location while preventing contact with the patient. When treatments start, the machine verifies catheters are clear and safe for the implant to travel. Once the machine verifies that it is safe to treat, the implant will be delivered to the designated area where it remains for a specified amount of time. When treatment is complete, the machine will retract the implant through the catheters into the machine where it will lock down to prevent further delivery of radiation.

Each treatment site has a unique method of delivery and care is often delivered in a much shorter length of time. Brachytherapy can provide a full treatment course in 3-10 treatments compared to multiple weeks with other methods.

Brachytherapy is often times used for internal breast treatments, gynecologic cancers and skin cancer.

Breast Cancer

Internal breast radiation therapy is performed through the use of Strut-Adjusted Volume Implant (SAVI). The SAVI device is available in a number of sizes with numerous channels/catheters built into it. Not every patient will qualify for this form of treatment based on the extent of the disease or location of the lumpectomy. Once the SAVI device is placed, it can provide radiation therapy treatments to that specific area. The SAVI device will use the channels/catheters to guide the implant for a calculated period of time to a treatment site while reducing the radiation dose to the surrounding tissue. Device placement is verified before each treatment with X-ray imaging to ensure the precise location of treatment. When complete, the radiation oncologist will close/collapse the device for quick and easy removal of the SAVI.

Gynecological Cancer

Gynecological cancers are often treated with HDR brachytherapy as the single form of treatment or in combination with external beam radiation therapy. Gynecologic cancers are treated with HDR brachytherapy using devices called cylinders. Cylinders come in various diameters with customizable lengths depending on each patient’s individual needs. Gynecological brachytherapy cylinders are placed internally with the placement location verified through the use of precise X-ray imaging. Once the physician has approved the location of the device, it will remain in place for the designated treatment time and removed each day following treatment. Gynecological HDR brachytherapy can be used as a single post-operative treatment or in combination with external beam radiation therapy in order to treat the desired area.

Skin Cancer

Skin HDR brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that is utilized to treat superficial skin cancers. Skin HDR treatments can be delivered in two ways depending on the size and shape of the treatment site. Through the use of special applicators, the implant is confined and directs the radiation to the area, to treat smaller more symmetric sites. If the treatment site is large or asymmetric, the physician can use catheters/tubing attached to special materials to guide the radioactive implant along the surface of the treatment area.


To find out more about HDR brachytherapy, please talk to your cancer care team, or call 630-432-6745 to get a second opinion from a radiation oncologist.

Topics and Subtopics: Cancer

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Radiation Oncology
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