High-dose Rate Brachytherapy

High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

Radiation therapy is one of the most common treatments for cancer, and with recent advances in technology many kinds of radiation treatment are available based on a person’s cancer type and location. High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy is a type of radiation treatment that allows physicians to deliver high doses of radiation to specific areas of the body from inside the body, rather than through conventional, external radiation beams.

Baptist Health is nationally recognized for excellence in cancer care. We offer a comprehensive oncology program, including advanced treatments like HDR brachytherapy. Best of all, you’ll appreciate convenient appointment times, a location near you and a personalized focus to meet your needs before, during and after your procedure.

What Is HDR Brachytherapy?

In order to specifically target a tumor, and minimize radiation effects on surrounding tissues, the physician performing HDR brachytherapy inserts an applicator device with small, hollow catheters, wires or needles directly into the tumor site and then inserts a series of radioactive pellets into the device. Guided by a computer, the radiation oncologist and physicist can control how deep the pellet goes into the device and how long it remains in place in order to deliver the appropriate amount of radiation to the target site.

This type of radiation is faster and more effective than conventional radiation for some types of cancer, can be performed on an outpatient basis and may produce fewer side effects.

What Can HDR Brachytherapy Accomplish?

HDR brachytherapy allows the radiation oncologist to deliver intense levels of radiation directly to a person’s cancer site. In eligible patients, it can be delivered in a much shorter course of treatment than standard radiation therapy. It’s used alone – or in conjunction with other treatments – for many types of cancer, including those affecting the bile duct, brain, breast, cervix, uterus, esophagus, eye, head and neck, lung, pancreas, prostate, rectum, skin, soft tissue or vagina.

HDR brachytherapy can:

  • Deliver targeted radiation to tumors, sparing surrounding tissue from radiation damage
  • Offer treatment that takes only a few minutes over a period of days, rather than the five to seven weeks often required for conventional radiation
  • Cause fewer side effects, helping people return to normal, everyday activities faster

What Can I Expect During the Procedure?

HDR brachytherapy is usually performed as a short series of outpatient procedures, outside the hospital – though treatments for certain types of cancer may be performed in the hospital. Depending on which part of the body is being treated, you may receive local anesthesia to numb an injection site, sedation or general anesthesia if catheters must be implanted. For certain HDR brachytherapy treatments, catheters, tubes or wires that transport the radiation source can be inserted through needles. Treatments take only a few minutes, and then the radioactive source is removed from your body. Applicators may be left in place until you’ve completed all treatments, or they may be removed after each treatment.

Radioactive material will be inserted into the brachytherapy applicators with the help of a computerized system. Your radiation therapy team will leave the room during your brachytherapy session but will observe you from nearby. Most people undergoing this therapy feel no pain during the procedure.


Most people undergoing HDR brachytherapy can return home after treatment. Once the radioactive material is removed from your body, you won’t give off radiation or be a danger to other people. In most cases, you can return to normal activities right away.

You may experience some tenderness and swelling in the treatment area, temporary tiredness if you required sedation or other side effects depending on your treatment site. HDR brachytherapy typically causes fewer side effects than conventional radiation treatments.

HDR Brachytherapy Possible Risks

Risks associated with HDR brachytherapy are typically rare or minimal. When they do occur, they depend on the treatment location and may include:

  • Bladder irritation
  • Bleeding
  • Bruising or swelling
  • Diarrhea
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Fatigue
  • Infection
  • Mild cramping
  • Numbness
  • Sore throat
  • Trouble urinating or painful urination

Next Steps with MyChart

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