Radiation Implants for a Brain Tumor

Brachytherapy is a type of treatment for cancer. It puts radiation right near cancer tissue. Small radioactive implants are placed into or near the brain tumor during surgery. They are also known as seeds or pellets. This form of treatment is also called interstitial radiation. Brachytherapy is not used as often as external radiation to treat brain tumors.

How brachytherapy works

The radiation implants may be used to slow or control tumor growth. The radiation only travels a short distance in the body so damage to nearby tissue is reduced. Stronger seeds may be removed after a few minutes or after up to 7 days. Weaker seeds may stay in place ongoing. These then become inactive over time.

Brachytherapy lets higher doses of radiation get to smaller areas than external radiation. This can limit the harm to nearby normal tissues. Brachytherapy is often used along with other treatments. You may also have surgery or chemotherapy. And you may also have radiation from external X-ray beams. The use of brachytherapy depends on tumor size and there the tumor is in the brain.

The implants are placed in or near the tumor during a surgery. The implants may be placed during the first surgery for the tumor. But more often they are placed after that surgery. This is so the surgeon can learn from the pathology results about the tumor. Small tubes are then inserted into the brain during a second surgery. Radiation is then given over several days through small tubes.

Risks of brachytherapy

Risks include:                          

  • Infection

  • Seizures

  • Headache

  • Death of nearby tissue (necrosis)

  • Brain swelling

During the procedure

  • You may be awake during the procedure. If so, local anesthesia may numb the area on your head. Or you may be given general anesthesia. This will cause you to sleep through the procedure.

  • Thin tubes (catheters) may be placed into small holes in your skull. The radioactive seeds are sent through the catheters into the tumor. The catheters may be removed right away. Or they may be left in place until the seeds are removed.

  • The seeds may give off a low level of radiation. Because of this, you will be in a private room. Visitors may need to wear lead aprons or vests. You may need to wear a helmet or remain in the shielded room.

  • Some types of very low-dose seeds are left in place a few months or permanently. These seeds may need to be placed during open brain surgery (craniotomy). Their radioactivity wears off over time.