Cervical Brachytherapy

Cervical brachytherapy is a critical component of radiation treatment for cervical cancer. Cervical brachytherapy may be used alone or in combination with external beam radiation. With brachytherapy, a very small source of radiation is delivered directly into the tumor and surrounding tissue. This allows a high dose of radiation to be given where needed and reduces the chance of injury or side effects to normal tissues.

Treatment with cervical brachytherapy involves insertion of instruments into the cervix. This is done as outpatient surgery, under general anesthesia. Cervical brachytherapy is well-tolerated, with few side effects.

Cervical Brachytherapy Treatment FAQs

How many treatments will I have?

You will be given specific instructions by your radiation oncologist. Do not eat or drink anything after midnight the night before the procedure. Blood work and labs will be arranged prior to the procedure. You will need a driver the day of the procedure.

How is the treatment given?

Treatment with cervical brachytherapy involves insertion of instruments into the cervix. This is done as outpatient surgery, under general anesthesia. The patient will check into the 1 E Surgical unit and an i.v. catheter will be inserted for administration of medication and fluids. While in surgery, the cervix will be dilated, a catheter is inserted into the bladder and the applicators (afterloaders) are put into place. An ultrasound is used to verify placement, then gauze packing is used to secure the instruments. Once the afterloaders have been secured, the patient goes to recovery. When stable, the patient will be transferred via stretcher to the Radiation Oncology Department. Upon arrival to the Radiation Oncology Department, a CT scan is performed to begin planning/calculation. Planning for each treatment can take up to 60 minutes. The patient will rest quietly during the planning stage and vital signs will be monitored. When planning is complete, cables are attached to the afterloaders and then connected to a radioactive source. When not in use, the radioactive source is housed in a shielded container. The radiation treatment is delivered through the afterloaders, by inserting radioactive pellets into the applicator for a short time. The treatment time is calculated based on the age of the radioactive source, which weakens daily. A typical treatment may take between 5 to 20 minutes. Once the treatment is completed, the radioactive pellets will return to the shielded container, and the catheter, packing and instruments will be removed from the patient. Patients should plan to be at the facility for 4 to 6 hours for each treatment.

Will I feel anything during treatment?

The treatment itself does not cause any discomfort. Patients should be aware that they will be lying on their back once the afterloaders have been inserted and will remain in that position until completion of the treatment. Patients may have some discomfort related to the afterloaders being in place and at the time of removal of these instruments. Pain medication is given to help ease this.

What can I expect after the treatment?

Once the treatment has been completed, the i.v. is removed and patient is assisted to dress. Patient will be discharged home to the care of a family member or friend.

Due to the use of anesthesia for this procedure, it is advised that patients do not drive, make important legal decisions or operate heavy equipment or power tools for 24 hours afterward. Patient should rest quietly for the remainder of the day and someone should remain with them. Patient is advised to abstain from alcohol use for 24 hours. Diet should be as tolerated, starting first with something light.

Cervical brachytherapy is well-tolerated with few side effects. The patient is not radioactive following this type of treatment. Patients may experience some light vaginal bleeding/spotting following the procedure. Some people may experience cramping. The use of over the counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen will help with this.

For more information about Memorial’s cervical brachytherapy program, please call 217-788-3260.