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designated cancer center

High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy

Brachytherapy is when a protected radiation source is placed directly within or near the tumor site. Brachytherapy is sometimes also called internal radiation therapy.

How High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy Works

High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy involves placing a protected source of high energy radiation directly within the tumor and using radioactive plaques, needles, tubes, wires, or small "seeds" made of radionuclides. These radioactive materials are placed over the surface of the tumor or implanted within the tumor, or placed within a body cavity surrounded by the tumor.

Whereas low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy places radioactive materials inside the body for extended periods of time, the high energy of the source used in HDR brachytherapy (usually Iridium-192) means that doctors can deliver equivalent doses of radiation in just a few minutes by inserting and then removing the radioactive beads. Thus, HDR brachytherapy is usually performed as a short series of outpatient procedures.

Patients Who Can Receive High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy

The Stanford Cancer Center offers HDR brachytherapy to gynecological cancer patients, and in clinical trials of MammoSite brachytherapy to breast cancer patients. In addition, patients with head and neck cancer, gynecological cancer, pulmonary cancer, and other local regional tumors can be considered for HDR brachytherapy on an individual basis.

Benefits of High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy

HDR brachytherapy allows highly localized doses of radiation to be delivered to the tumor quickly and without radiation exposure to your family or the hospital staff. Because HDR brachytherapy is performed on an outpatient basis it is much more convenient and cost-effective than LDR brachytherapy which usually requires a hospital stay.

In addition, LDR brachytherapy often requires patients to remain as still as possible for days at a time, exposing them to risk of deep vein thrombosis. This risk is eliminated with the much more rapid HDR brachytherapy. Finally, the treatment planning system permits doctors to precisely control the amount of radiation delivered to the region, and to limit the amount of radiation that reaches nearby healthy tissue. 

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