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What is Internal Radiation Therapy (IRT)?

IRT is a type of cancer treatment.

It kills cancer cells with a high dose of radiation through an implant inside the body. The implant directs energy at the tumor, helping spare nearby tissues and reduce side effects.

Other terms for IRT are:

  • Brachytherapy.
  • Seed implantation.
  • Implanted radiation therapy.

Contact Us About Radiation Oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

To learn more about radiation treatments or to make an appointment you can:

 What Is Internal Radiation Therapy?

IRT is the use of high-energy waves to damage cancer cells. The radiation helps shrink the tumor as the cancer cells die.

Cancer doctors often use it alongside:

  • Surgery.
  • Chemo.
  • Other cancer treatments.

There are two types of radiation treatments: external beam and internal. Doctors decide which one to use based on the cancer type and location.

External beam radiation uses a machine outside the body to shoot radiation into the body. Treatments are often daily, which can be a hassle when trying to go about your life.

IRT uses radioactive seeds at the site of your internal cancer. A doctor implants the seeds at the site. They may stay there, or the doctor may remove them later.

The metal radioactive seeds are often smaller than a grain of rice. They slowly release radiation over a few months. Within one year, their radiation is gone.

The seeds can stay safely in place for the rest of your life after they've done their job.

Internal Radiation for Certain Types of Internal Cancers

Internal cancer is any cancer that's not skin cancer. These cancers can be hard to reach with surgery and may need internal radiation treatment.

All IRT uses the same basic approach of sending radiation to a tumor to kill cancer cells.

But doctors often tailor them to certain cancers. They may use a different dose or material to deliver the radiation.

IRT for prostate cancer

Most often, doctors suggest implanted radiation for prostate cancer, sometimes called brachytherapy.

Here's how it works:

  • The doctor places radioactive seeds inside the prostate gland.
  • The implanted seeds slowly release radiation to the prostate over months.
  • The seeds stay safely in the prostate after the radiation decays.

Doctors may combine this method with external beam radiation depending on the cancer stage. Larger prostate tumors may need hormone therapy before radiation treatment.

IRT for prostate cancer causes fewer problems with urination and erectile dysfunction than other treatments.

IRT for breast cancer

    Doctors use many radiation systems tailored to each person and their breast cancer.

    The types of IRT they use depend on:

    • The breast cancer type.
    • The tumor size and location.
    • How advanced the cancer is.
    • Other factors.

    Most often, radiation follows breast surgery.

    Intracavitary breast radiation is the most common type doctors use to treat breast cancer. It targets the spot where cancer is most likely to return.

    A doctor places a container of radioactive material inside the breast, where it temporarily releases higher doses of radiation.

    Other internal radiation treatments for cancer

    Some IRT is specific to certain types of cancers, such as:

    What Is High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy?

    HDR brachytherapy is a form of IRT. Doctors most often use HDR when cancer is easy to reach.

    During HDR, your cancer doctor:

    • Puts a tube near or in the tumor in your body.
    • Uses this tube to place highly radioactive material near the tumor to kill the cancer cells.
    • Removes the tube later.

    UPMC Hillman Cancer Center is a leader in brachytherapy.