Prostate Brachytherapy (Radiated Seed Placement)

The most challenging goal in radiation therapy is to provide the most radiation to cancer cells, while minimizing the exposure of healthy tissues nearby. The fewer healthy cells exposed to radiation, the lower the risk of side effects. The human body is constantly in motion, even at rest. No matter how still a patient attempts to remain during radiation treatment, body processes create continuous motion, making it difficult to keep radiation from external sources focused with pinpoint accuracy throughout treatment. This is especially true in treating prostate cancer; due to its location near the bowel and bladder, the prostate’s motion is the most unpredictable and variable of all.

One highly effective solution to the motion problem is to use internal radiation to place the radiation source directly in or next to the cancerous tumor. Called brachytherapy, this treatment consists of introducing radiation directly with tiny implants. Brachytherapy can be used to treat various kinds of cancer, including prostate, breast, cervical, and ocular cancers.

The precise location for the implants is determined using various imaging technologies. In a brief outpatient procedure, under anesthesia, your doctor will insert a tube or catheter (applicator) to be used to place your radiation implants. Depending on the type of treatment needed and the dose of radiation to be given, two different types of implants may be used. In each case, small amounts of radioactive material are sealed inside tiny containers – pellets, seeds, ribbons, wires, needles, capsules, balloons, or tubes, which are placed in or near the tumor:

  • Permanent (low-dose) implants: tiny implants, usually about the size of a grain of sand, that remain in the body and are not removed.
  • Temporary (higher-dose) implants: slightly larger implants placed for a specified amount of time, then removed once the dose has been absorbed, often a matter of minutes.

Internal radiation therapy allows a higher dose of radiation in a smaller, more precise area than external radiation treatment. At the same time, little radiation reaches nearby healthy tissue, reducing side effects dramatically. The implants produce radiation for a limited period of time, which gradually fades. Little radiation reaches nearby healthy cells, reducing side effects dramatically. The implants seldom produce significant radiation beyond the immediate treatment area. In most cases they produce no external radiation that could affect another person.

There are two main types of Brachytherapy:

  • Intracavity radiation – the radiation implants are placed in a cavity (space) within the body close to the tumor
  • Interstitial radiation – the implants are placed in or near the tumor, but not in a body cavity

Martin O’Neil Cancer Center’s physicians are some of the world’s most skilled and experienced experts in internal seed radiation therapy. Dr. Stephen Banks is one of the world’s premier pioneers of Brachytherapy and a co-founding member of the Prostate Brachytherapy Research Group. He has personally performed thousands of prostate seed implants, and trains other physicians on the procedure.