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High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

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High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy in Staten Island, NY

When finding the right cancer treatment, high-dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy can be an ideal option for certain cancerous conditions. It works by providing high levels of radiation to tumors and cancer cells. With a dedication to patients across Staten Island, Richmond University Medical Center offers the best treatment methods available for a variety of cancer types. Learn more about HDR brachytherapy at Richmond University Medical Center’s Center for Cancer Care.

What Is HDR Brachytherapy?

High-dose-rate brachytherapy, also called internal radiation therapy, is a method of radiation therapy used to treat certain cancers. It is designed to deliver high doses of radiation to tumors to shrink their size and kill off cancerous cells. There are three types of brachytherapy treatments for cancer patients:

Permanent Implants

This is a permanent treatment for cancers. During the procedure, physicians place an implant in or near the tumor inside the body, and it is never removed. Permanent implants are designed to deliver radiation to the tumor slowly.

Low Dose Rate (LDR) Brachytherapy

LDR brachytherapy is a less permanent method of treatment. Similar to permanent implants, this type of brachytherapy involves inserting radiation implants in or around the tumor. However, LDR brachytherapy implants are removed after several days. This treatment typically takes place in a hospital setting.

High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

HDR brachytherapy also uses a tool to deliver radiation directly inside the body and in or near the tumor. Different from permanent implants and LDR brachytherapy, this method is a more temporary treatment. Here, high doses of radiation are exposed to the tumor for only a few minutes. Then, the implant is removed from the area. HDR brachytherapy can be completed through several appointments.

Brachytherapy is a more targeted approach to radiation therapy, as it only hits the specific part of the body where the tumor lies. In turn, this can keep nearby structures and cells healthy throughout treatment. The brachytherapy procedure can be done in many areas, including the eyes, head, prostate, neck, cervix, and breasts.

How Does HDR Brachytherapy Work?

HDR brachytherapy involves the process of placing radioactive implants or materials inside the patient’s body. The implants are typically left near or inside cancerous tumors. This allows physicians to deliver consistent, high-dose treatment to clear up tumors and decrease the amount of cancerous cells. Implants can be placed in one of three ways, such as:

  • Episcleral brachytherapy: Typically used for eye cancers, this type of brachytherapy attaches radiation to the eye.
  • Interstitial brachytherapy: This involves placing the implant directly into the tumor inside the body. It is most commonly used for treating prostate cancer.
  • Intracavity brachytherapy: This is when the radiation source is placed inside a body cavity. It can be used for treating cervical and rectal cancers.

The HDR brachytherapy procedure can be completed under anesthesia. This is because physicians may place thin tubes into the body and near the tumor. The tubes are designed to connect to a machine that delivers radiation to the tumor. After treatment is complete, the tubes are removed from the machine. However, they do remain in the body until treatments are finished. Not all cancers use this brachytherapy technique for treatment. Some may not require tube placement.

Immediately following treatment, patients may experience swelling and pain at the treatment site. Physicians typically prescribe medications to reduce swelling and control pain. A patient’s physician will give them specific instructions for post-treatment protocol and care.

Conditions Treated by HDR Brachytherapy

Many types of cancer can benefit from HDR brachytherapy treatment, including:

Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is a condition that affects the prostate gland, which is responsible for sperm regulation. When administering HDR brachytherapy for prostate cancer, radioactive implants are placed inside the prostate gland. This allows prostate tumors to receive high levels of radiation without harming nearby structures and cells. Before beginning the procedure, tubes are placed through the perineum and into the prostate. Physicians typically use an interstitial brachytherapy technique to deliver radiation directly into the prostate tumor.

Head and Neck Cancer

This is a type of cancer that affects the head, neck, and other parts like the mouth, ears, nose, and throat. HDR brachytherapy is an ideal treatment method for targeting specific areas through the mouth. This kind of treatment may be used in conjunction with other methods, such as surgery or chemotherapy.

Eye Cancer

Eye cancer is a rare form of cancer that can appear in eyeball cells or areas like the tear ducts or eyelids. Melanomas are a common type of cancer that can grow in the eyes. For patients with cancers of the eye, HDR brachytherapy can work to eliminate cancerous cells. Brachytherapy is a common form of treatment for eye cancers, especially melanomas. Here, physicians use an episcleral brachytherapy treatment to bring radiation directly to the eye.

Breast Cancer

Breast cancer is any cancerous tumor that is found in the breast or towards the armpits. The first indication that a patient may have a breast tumor is the presence of unusual lumps inside the breast. HDR brachytherapy can be used to treat breast cancer and is typically joined with other methods of treatment, such as surgery.

Cervical Cancer

Cervical cancer involves the multiplication of cancerous cells in the cervix. The cervix is located at the bottom of the uterus and is often checked for precancerous cells during routine obstetrics and gynecology exams. Physicians use an intracavity brachytherapy technique during HDR brachytherapy treatment to place radiation directly near the cervix for those with cervical cancer.

HDR Brachytherapy and Other Treatments

In some cases, HDR brachytherapy can be the only treatment needed to eliminate certain types of cancer. This is especially true for patients who have detected their cancer early. However, HDR brachytherapy may be used alongside other methods, such as:


Surgery is performed to remove cancerous tumors in many body parts. There are many different types of surgical procedures surgeons can use to eliminate all or part of a cancerous tumor. The kind of procedure a patient receives depends on the type, size, and location of the cancer. While surgical efforts can be successful in total tumor removal, additional treatment efforts may be needed to get rid of remaining tumors or cancerous cells.


Chemotherapy is a form of cancer treatment that involves the use of medications to kill off cancerous cells. It can be administered in one of two ways:

  • Intravenously (IV)
  • Pill medications

This type of treatment can work to treat cancers alone, or it can be used with other methods like radiation.

Hormone Therapy

Because some cancerous cells require hormones to survive, blocking or changing the makeup of a patient’s hormones can work to kill off certain cancers. Hormone therapy is designed to reduce the amount of essential hormones in the body and keep them from getting to cancerous cells. As hormone therapy progresses, it can decrease the amount of cancer cells in the body.

Targeted Therapy

Targeted therapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses medications to directly attack and kill off cancerous cells. It works by detecting the unusual genetic makeup of cancerous cells and attacking them. While targeted therapy can be successful on its own, it may also be used with other cancer treatments, such as surgery or chemotherapy.


Immunotherapy is a cancer treatment that improves immune system function. This gives the body the energy needed to fight off cancer cells. Depending on the type of cancer a patient has, immunotherapy can work either on its own or alongside additional treatment efforts.

What to Expect Before Treatment

Before starting HDR brachytherapy treatment, physicians take the time to construct the right treatment plan for each patient. This can depend on the type and severity of cancer that a patient has. Patients meet with their physicians to complete a physical exam and discuss their medical history. In some cases, physicians may conduct further imaging tests to access a closer look at the tumor. Some imaging tests a patient may need include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • Computed tomography (CT) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • Mammogram

Before treatment, physicians also discuss the potential side effects of the procedure, what benefits it can provide, and post-treatment care instructions.

Side Effects of HDR Brachytherapy

HDR brachytherapy can produce a variety of symptoms. These symptoms can vary for each patient that undergoes treatment. Some of the most common HDR brachytherapy side effects include:

  • Frequent or urgent bowel movements
  • Difficulty urinating
  • Frequent or urgent urination
  • Blood in stool
  • Uncomfortable urination
  • Bleeding at the insertion site
  • Frequent nighttime urination
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Blood in urine
  • Trouble with completely emptying the bladder

If a patient is experiencing uncomfortable, problematic symptoms associated with their HDR brachytherapy treatment, physicians can prescribe medications and offer additional treatments to reduce symptoms. This gives patients the relief needed to continue healing and treatment.

Receive Treatment at Richmond University Medical Center

Serving patients across Staten Island, Richmond University Medical Center has the resources and knowledge to deliver care for those diagnosed with cancer. Physicians combine comprehensive treatment plans with personalized care for each patient, ensuring trust and reliability in the community. To learn more about HDR brachytherapy cancer treatment, contact us today.