If you have cancer and need radiation treatment, your doctor may decide that the most effective treatment will be a very intense form given to a small area of your body. This kind of cancer treatment is called internal radiation therapy. It is known by a variety of other names, too, including: implant radiation, interstitial radiation, intracavitary radiation or brachytherapy—all are forms of internal radiation therapy used to treat cancer today.
With internal radiation therapy, the doctor places a source of high-energy, radioactive rays (such as seed implants) inside the body as close as possible to the cancer cells. The goal is to maximize radiation to cancer cells while also minimizing exposure to normal cells, so they won’t be damaged. Some of the radioactive substances used for internal radiation treatment include radium, cesium, iridium, iodine, phosphorus, and palladium. Internal radiation therapy is frequently used for cancers affecting the head and neck, breast, uterus, thyroid, cervix, and prostate.
Another type of radiation therapy, called external radiation therapy, is different. As its name suggests, it gets delivered externally, by a large machine located outside of the body. For some patients, doctors recommend a combination of internal and external radiation therapy—it all depends on the kind of cancer you have and what stage it is in.
“When using internal radiation therapy, we can give a higher total dose of radiation in a shorter time than is possible with external treatment,” says Lynn Wilson, MD, a radiation oncologist who is the vice chair of Yale Medicine Therapeutic Radiology.
At Yale Medicine, we offer more internal radiation therapy or brachytherapy services than any other program in the state of Connecticut. We offer image-guided high dose rate brachytherapy (intra-cavitary and interstitial) services for patients with gynecologic malignancies, including cervical cancer, vaginal cancer, and uterine cancer.