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Cancer Treatment Centers of America

Brachytherapy for oral cancer

Brachytherapy for oral cancer

Brachytherapy may be an alternative to surgery for some oral cancer patients. Because there is no incision and no surgical wound to heal, recovery from the procedure is generally rapid.

What is brachytherapy?

There are two types of brachytherapy: high-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy and low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy.

High-dose rate brachytherapy

High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy offers a fast, precise way to give radiation treatment for some cancer patients. The radiation is deposited inside a tumor, delivering a maximum dose while minimizing exposure to the surrounding healthy tissue.

HDR brachytherapy uses laser-thin, hollow catheters to deliver a precise, three-dimensional dose of radiation. The catheters are temporarily inserted in and around the region of the tumor using image-guidance (usually ultrasound, CT scan or MRI), before each treatment.

With a few well-placed catheters, HDR brachytherapy can provide a very precise treatment for cancer that takes only a few minutes. After a series of treatments, the catheters are removed. There are no radioactive seeds left in the body, as is the case with other types of brachytherapy.

Each HDR brachytherapy treatment takes about 15-20 minutes.

Low-dose rate brachytherapy

Low-dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds directly into the oral cancer tumor. Also sometimes called permanent seed implants, LDR brachytherapy uses radioactive seeds bound together in short rows and permanently implants them into the organ. These pellets emit low levels of radiation for several weeks. When this radiation treatment ends, the harmless seeds are left in place permanently.

LDR brachytherapy is a one-time procedure performed on an outpatient basis. The procedure itself generally takes about an hour.