Managing Treatments

HDR Brachytherapy Is a Targeted Treatment for Many Common Cancers

HDR brachytherapy is a valuable treatment option for people with many common cancers. It precisely targets the cancer to lessen damage to surrounding healthy tissue.

Radiation is a critical part of multidisciplinary cancer care. Advances in radiation are designed to provide more targeted doses while sparing healthy tissue.

High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy is an internal radiation therapy that’s a valuable treatment option for a lot of common cancers, including prostate, cervical, breast, and endometrial.

What is HDR Brachytherapy?

With this treatment, a patient has radioactive materials implanted close to or in the tumor. These materials provide a high dose of radiation to kill the cancer cells from the inside.

Doctors use imaging, such as computed tomography (CT) and ultrasound, to pinpoint the location of the tumor. Then, during an outpatient surgical procedure, the doctor places balloon catheter at the appropriate location. The radioactive materials are delivered through the catheter for a set amount of time, usually 30 minutes. With this therapy, no X-rays pass through your body. This reduces side effects on skin and helps lessen damage to surrounding healthy tissue. According to the American Cancer Society, with internal radiation therapy, patients may experience nausea or fatigue, but severe pain is unlikely.


“Brachytherapy is the most focused form of high-dose radiation therapy,” says Dr. Timothy Showalter, an associate professor and residency program director at the UVA Department of Radiation Oncology. “HDR brachytherapy is a convenient form of brachytherapy because it allows us to deliver treatment over short time periods, usually without the need for prolonged immobilization or hospital admission.”

Rather than spending several weeks receiving radiation treatment, depending on your type and stage of cancer, patients may have a much shorter treatment period with the high-dose version. The entire process takes several hours and no overnight stay at the hospital is required.

HDR brachytherapy is an advanced treatment option that’s effective for many types of cancers. Earlier this year, UVA began using a new technique to offer HDR brachytherapy in the treatment of intermediate and high-risk prostate cancer. Using prostate-rectal spacer implantation has helped lessen the rectal toxicity of prostate radiation therapy, Dr. Showalter says.

High-Dose Rate Brachytherapy at UVA Cancer Center

The Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center offers a dedicated brachytherapy suite. This allows for all steps of the process to be done in one room. This therapy requires multiples steps, including imaging scans, catheter placement, and the radiation delivery. The UVA brachytherapy suite is equipped with a CT machine which surrounds the patient while on the procedure table to provide even greater accuracy. When patients are moved to a separate imaging location the catheter can move a tiny bit. With the UVA brachytherapy suite, patients remain in the same room for treatment and imaging which eliminates movement of the catheter and allows for the most targeted dose.

Doctors, nurses, and technicians at UVA strive to make this experience as comfortable and seamless as possible for the patient to allow them to focus on recovery. Patients should talk to their treatment team about whether this therapy is available to them.

To find out more about HDR brachytherapy at UVA and our dedicated suite, contact the Emily Couric Clinical Cancer Center.

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Patricia Chaney
Patricia Chaney