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Brachytherapy

 

Brachytherapy (BRAK ih THER uh pee) uses tiny radioactive seeds to kill tumor cells. The seeds are called sources, and they are no bigger than sesame seeds. A radiation oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer with radiation. This doctor may decide that brachytherapy is the best treatment for your child’s tumor.

The treatment is given through thin tubes called catheters. The catheters will be used to place the radioactive sources at the site of the tumor. The sources are so small that your child will not be able to feel them. And, they will only be in your child’s body for a short time. Sometimes, the doctor will use brachytherapy as the only treatment. Other times it is used along with other types of radiation therapy.

Benefits of brachytherapy

This treatment allows a small area to be treated with a large amount of radiation in a short amount of time. Because this treatment places the sources into the tumor site, the radiation kills the tumor cells without harming the normal cells.

When and how are the catheters placed?

First, your child will have surgery to remove most of the tumor. During that surgery, the doctor will place catheters (thin tubes) in your child that lead to where the tumor is. Parts of the catheters will stay outside of the skin. The tube itself is not radioactive.

The next day, the staff will do an X-ray called a CT scan to make sure the catheters are in the correct position. Three (3) to 4 days later, the surgery site will have begun to heal. At this time, the radiation oncologist will start the radiation treatments.

What happens during the treatments?

Your child will come to Radiation Oncology and check in with the patient care representative. A radiation therapist will take your child to a room called the high dose rate room (HDR room). The nurse will remove the bandage covering the catheters. The radiation oncologist will connect the catheters to a machine that contains the radioactive sources. When everything is connected, the staff will leave the room. The machine will send the radioactive sources automatically into the catheters to deliver a treatment. The treatment will last about 10–15 minutes.

After the treatment, the sources will leave the tumor and return to the machine automatically. The radiation oncologist will disconnect the machine from the catheters. Then, the nurse will cover the catheters with another bandage. After each treatment, all radioactive material will be out of your child.

How long do the catheters stay in place?

The radiation oncologist will decide how many treatments your child should have. The number of treatments depends on the type of tumor, where it is in the body, and whether other radiation treatments have been used before or will be used in the future. The treatments are usually given 2 times a day. The catheters will stay in place until the series of treatments is completed.

Can someone be with my child while the treatment is being delivered to the tumor?

No, no one but the patient may be in the HDR room when the treatment is being delivered. But after the sources are removed from the catheters, there is no more radioactive material in your child. There is no risk for anyone who will be around your child between treatments, including pregnant women.

Where will my child stay during this treatment?

Because the sources are removed from your child after each treatment, there is no risk to others. For the treatments, your child will either stay in an inpatient room or in a St. Jude housing facility. The radiation oncologist will decide the best place for your child to stay. It will depend on your child’s age and where the catheters are in the body.

If your child is placed on an inpatient unit, he will not have to stay in the patient room all the time. Your child can have toys in the room that have smooth surfaces and are easy to clean. If the doctor allows a soft toy or blanket, it must be washed in the washing machine at the hospital when your child arrives, and it must be washed again before you leave the hospital. Wash the toy or blanket more often if you can.

What happens when the catheters are removed?

The catheters will be removed in the HDR room after the last treatment. The nurse will give your child some pain medicine before the last treatment begins, to prepare for taking out the catheters. When the last treatment is completed and the sources have gone back into the machine, the radiation oncologist will remove the catheters. Removing them does not take long, but the process can be a little uncomfortable. Every attempt will be made to keep your child from feeling uncomfortable. In most cases, the pain medicine works well to relieve any discomfort your child may feel.

The doctor will tell you how much rest your child should have. The spot where the catheters were placed may be sore for a while. A nurse will tell you how to care for your child after you leave the hospital.

Questions?

Your child’s radiation oncologist, nurse practitioner, radiation nurse, and radiation therapist will talk to you about this treatment and answer any questions you might have.


 

This document is not intended to take the place of the care and attention of your personal physician or other professional medical services. Our aim is to promote active participation in your care and treatment by providing information and education. Questions about individual health concerns or specific treatment options should be discussed with your physician.

St. Jude complies with health care-related federal civil rights laws and does not discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin, age, disability, or sex.

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