Internal radiotherapy for head and neck cancer
Internal radiotherapy involves putting a radioactive source directly into the cancer.
Over a few days, this gives a high dose of radiotherapy into the tumour. It’s sometimes used:
to treat small tumours in the mouth or lip
with external beam radiotherapy to give an additional dose of radiotherapy or ‘boost’ into the tumour.
If you have internal radiotherapy, you will need to stay in a single room in hospital for a few days, until the doctor removes the radioactive source from your body.
During this time, visitors will be restricted. It will be safe for your family and close friends to visit you for short periods. But children and pregnant women won’t be allowed to visit. This is so they’re not exposed to even tiny amounts of radiation. The doctors and nurses caring for you will also only be able to stay in your room for short periods of time.
Once the radioactive source is removed, the radioactivity disappears and it’s perfectly safe to be with other people.
The radioactive source causes some swelling in the tissues nearby. This swelling usually settles by the time the source is removed (generally about seven days later). The soreness may last for up to about six weeks.
Our section on radiotherapy gives detailed information about this type of treatment and its side effects.