High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

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Brachytherapy is a procedure which radioactive material sealed in needles, seeds, wires, catheters, or “applicators” is placed directly into or near body cavities affected by cancer.

There are two ways to deliver brachytherapy:

  • Low Dose Rate Brachytherapy, wherein radiation doses are given more slowly, typically over a two- to three-day period or even several months.
  • High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy, wherein a high dose of radiation is delivered in a short time, typically only minutes.

What is a High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy?

HDR Brachytherapy delivers high doses of radiation into the center of tumors or areas of the body where these tumors are located. HDR Brachytherapy is usually delivered through an HDR unit consisting of a “remote afterloader” with an extremely high-intensity radiation seed attached to a cable. A computerized motor controls the cable so that the HDR unit moves the radiation seed into precise locations within the attached needle or catheter or applicator. It also controls precisely how long the source stays at each location.

What are the advantages of HDR Brachytherapy?

Some of the advantages of HDR Brachytherapy include:

  • Shorter time of treatment in an out-patient setting.
  • Better optimization of dose distribution.
  • The radiation source is given the patient only during the treatment session; no radiation safety precautions are necessary after the patient leaves the treatment unit.

When is HDR Brachytherapy used?

HDR Brachytherapy is commonly used in the treatment of:

  • prostate cancer
  • gynecologic cancers
  • esophageal cancer
  • lung cancer
  • nasopharyngeal cancer

How long is the procedure?

HDR Brachytherapy treatment typically takes from 5 to 20 minutes in an outpatient setting although it may take doctors and medical physicists an hour to plan the best way to deliver the high-dose radiation into the body ares infected by the tumors.

Who performs the procedure?

To deliver the precise dose of radiation, the Radiation Oncologist works closely with a medical physicist in utilizing a 3-D computer planning system to determine the best way to deliver the HDR radiation within the treatment device. Multiple plans can be reviewed prior to determining the best one to use. Each plan is custom-adjusted by the radiation oncologist before treatment is administered to the patient.

Excerpt from HDR Brachytherapy, St. Luke's Medical Center