Unlike external radiation therapy which is delivered outside of the body, internal radiation therapy delivers radiation inside or on the body.  There are a few manners in which this type of therapy is delivered: interstitial, intracavitary and episcleral brachytherapy.   Interstitial allows radiation to be placed within the tumor.  Intracavitary allows a source of radiation to be placed in a body cavity near a tumor and episcleral that treats melanoma within the eye using a source that is attached to the eye.

With internal radiation therapy the radiation isotopes are sealed into tiny seeds that are delivered into a patient using needles or catheters.  These isotopes naturally deteriorate as they kill the nearby cancerous cells. Internal radiation therapy may deliver higher dosages of radiation to certain cancerous tumors then treatment using linear accelerators, external radiation therapy, while causing less disruption to the normal healthy cells surrounding the cancerous cells.

Internal radiation can be given in either low or high doses.  When low dose radiation is delivered, radiation therapy will be designed to give off radiation to cancerous cells continuously for several days.  If a higher dose of therapy is to be given, a machine is used to attach tubes to guide the radioactive treatment into place and then removes it at the end of treatment.  This can be done in one or more sessions.  The placement of either high or low doses of internal radiation can be given in either one treatment or several depending on the radiation oncologist’s recommendation.

The placement of the tubes delivering radiation can be placed permanently or temporarily.  For the tubes to be put into place permanently they will be surgically sealed within the patient’s body.  The source of the radiation will be sealed into the patient’s body to emit low doses of radiation continuously.  Once all of the radiation has been given off the pouch will remain sealed in the patient’s body without harm or discomfort.   Permanent therapy is given for low doses of radiation treatment.

With temporary treatment the source carrying the radiation is removed after the treatment is performed.  Temporary, internal radiation therapy can be given as a treatment option for both high and low doses of radiation therapy.  This treatment can be used to treat or boost other forms of radiation therapy for cancer.

Another form of radiation therapy is systemic radiation therapy.  This form of treatment is given either an injection or is made to swallow radioactive materials.  This form of therapy is used for thyroid cancers or other cancers in which treatment needs to travel through the blood to locate and kill the tumor cells.  It is also used regularly for pain relief in patients with bone cancer.

In our next installment on radiation therapy we will discuss why some types of radiation therapy is given in small doses and others in larger doses.  We will also discuss more about external radiation therapy using linear accelerators, LINAC, and internal radiation therapy that delivers radiation in several manners.

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