What is internal radiotherapy?

Internal radiotherapy is also called brachytherapy. It gives a high dose of radiotherapy directly to the top of the vagina (where the womb was) and to the area close by. You may have internal radiotherapy on its own. Or you may have it at the end of your external radiotherapy treatment. You can usually have it as an outpatient.

The treatment is given by placing hollow tubes, called applicators, into the vagina. The radiotherapy is given through these tubes.

After the applicators are in place, you will probably then have a scan or x-rays to check their position. When it is confirmed that the applicators are in the correct position, they will be connected to the brachytherapy machine. The machine is operated by a radiographer or physics technician. It places a radioactive capsule, called a source, into the applicators. The machine then gives the planned dose of radiation.

Women who still have their womb may have a slightly different type of internal treatment. It involves putting an applicator into the womb as well as the vagina. This is done under general anaesthetic or occasionally a spinal anaesthetic. Your doctor or nurse will explain more about what is involved.

Internal radiotherapy can be given as high-dose-rate, low-dose-rate or pulsed-dose-rate treatment. These different ways of giving internal radiotherapy all work equally well. The type you have will depend on the system your hospital uses. Your cancer specialist and specialist nurse will explain more, so that you know what to expect.

High-dose-rate treatment

This is the most common way of giving internal radiotherapy to treat womb cancer. You usually have it as an outpatient. Each treatment takes a few minutes. You will usually have 3 or 4 treatments, over 2 to 3 weeks. The applicators are removed after each treatment before you go home.

Low-dose-rate treatment

If you have this treatment, you will usually be in hospital for 12 to 24 hours. But sometimes you may have it over a few days. Your doctor, nurse or radiographer will tell you more about low-dose-rate treatment.

Pulsed-dose-rate treatment

This treatment is given over the same length of time as low-dose rate treatment. But the radiation dose is given in pulses rather than as a continuous dose. Your doctor, nurse or radiographer will give you more information.

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