Multidisciplinary Care

Radiation oncologists at the University of Wisconsin Carbone Cancer Center work together with doctors who specialize in different medical areas to provide treatment that is individualized and well-coordinated.

Learn more about comprehensive cancer services provided by UW Health. 

Brachytherapy is a type of internal radiation treatment. This involves placing a radiation source inside the body, as close to the tumor as possible. A small area of the body is treated with brachytherapy. The radiation source may be placed inside the body for a short period of time and then taken out.


Some brachytherapy treatments involve placement of radiation sources permanently within a certain body part. Your UW Health radiation oncologist will discuss your condition and make recommendations for your care.


Types of Brachytherapy Treatments


Prostate Seed Implantation


Radioactive "seed" implants or prostate brachytherapy may offer an effective treatment option for men with early stage prostate cancer that is less disruptive to their lives than standard radiation treatment.


After a prostate cancer diagnosis, physicians can plan and perform brachytherapy in two short hospital visits. Conventional radiation therapy requires 35 to 44 separate one-half hour visits, and surgery for removal of the prostate requires three days in the hospital.


Prostate brachytherapy also allows the patient to leave the hospital the day of the implantation and carries no risk to family members. After the seeds are placed, there are some radiation safety measures you need to follow. These will be explained by your radiation doctor. Those who use prostate brachytherapy to treat prostate cancer may resume light activities within two to three days after the procedure and regular activities within one to two weeks.


Lung Mesh Brachytherapy


Radiation oncologists perform "mesh brachytherapy" for lung cancer patients in conjunction with our thoracic oncology surgeons. This procedure may be recommended for patients with early stage lung cancer at the time of a wedge resection (a surgical procedure removing a small part of the lung). Radiation seeds are placed along the staple line to try and prevent recurrence of cancer in the same lung. After the seeds are placed, there are some radiation safety measures you need to follow. These will be explained by your radiation doctor.


The UW Carbone Cancer Center is the only facility in the state to offer Video Assisted Thoracoscopic Surgery (VATS) wedge resection with brachytherapy as a treatment for high risk lung cancer patients


Accelerated Partial Breast Irradiation


This form of radiation therapy, also known as breast brachytherapy, is an option for certain women who have undergone breast conserving surgery for early stage breast cancer or ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Breast brachytherapy is a more localized means of treatment than external beam radiation therapy. Therefore, healthy breast, skin, rib, muscle, lung and heart tissue is exposed to lower doses of radiation. Treatment involves placing one or more catheters into the breast. Internal radiation treatments are delivered twice daily for 5 days.


Vaginal Brachytherapy


Some women have their uterus removed as part of the treatment for uterine or cervical cancer. Brachytherapy treatments may then be recommended to the vagina. Vaginal brachytherapy is a method of giving radiation to a small area. This involves the placement of one or two small hollow tubes inside the vagina. These tubes are called applicators.


A radioactive source will travel into the applicator from a storage unit though thin cables. It will remain in the vaginal applicators for 3-15 minutes, until the correct amount of radiation is given. Your doctor prescribes the dose of radiation you receive. Most patients will have three to five treatments with one or two treatments each week. Each treatment takes about one hour. You are not radioactive after the treatment.


The applicators used for vaginal brachytherapy vary in size and shape. Your doctor will choose the one that fits you best. Below is a drawing of the applicators most often used. The drawing also shows where they are placed.


vaginal treatment with ovoidsvaginal treatment with cylinders


Cervical Brachytherapy


Some women who do not have their uterus removed may be treated with brachytherapy treatments directed at the uterus, cervix, and vagina.This delivers a high dose of radiation to a small area. Small, hollow instruments are placed by your doctor. The drawing below shows some of the commonly used instruments. It also shows where the instruments are placed in the body. They vary in size and shape. Your doctor will choose the ones that are right for you.


A tiny, radioactive source, attached to a wire, is inserted through the instruments. The source is left in place for a short period, most often 5-20 minutes. The source then moves out of the instruments and goes back into its storage container. The doctor gently removes the instruments and then the treatment is complete.


Most patients have 5 treatments that are scheduled 1-2 times per week. Each treatment takes three to six hours from start to finish. This is a surgical procedure and is done under anesthesia. Anesthesia is given by doctors and nurses. You will fall deeply asleep and remain comfortable. Please note, patients who get anesthesia are not allowed to drive for 24 hours. On the day of your procedure, a friend or family member will need to drive you home.


cervical brachytherapy