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What is High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy?

Remote afterloader machine used for HDR Brachytherapy

HDR brachytherapy is a form of internal radiation where a cancer doctor:

  • Implants a small plastic tube or balloon (a catheter) in the tumor.
  • Places highly radioactive material inside your body for a short time and then takes it out using a remote control.
  • Removes the tube after you've finished your whole course of treatment.

You may need more than one session of HDR brachytherapy.

Contact Us About Radiation Oncology at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

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

High-Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy Vs. Low-Dose Rate (LDR) Brachytherapy

There are two basic types of brachytherapy treatment:

  • Low-dose rate (LDR) implants.
  • High-dose rate (HDR) implants.

You and your doctor will talk about which one is best for you.


HDR implants place a source of radiation through tubes into the body to kill cancer cells. Doctors remove the source in minutes, so no radiation stays in the body.

HDR helps treat:

  • Prostate cancer.
  • Breast cancer.
  • Lung cancer.
  • Cervical cancer.
  • Head and neck cancers.
  • Sarcoma.
  • Melanoma.


LDR implants place radioactive seeds in the tumor site. They slowly release radiation over a few months before they decay.

Doctors may use LDR implants for:

  • Prostate cancer.
  • Brain tumors.

HDR Brachytherapy for Certain Cancers

At UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, we often use HDR brachytherapy to treat cancers near the outside of the body.

Get details on treatments based on your cancer type:

HDR brachytherapy for prostate cancer

HDR prostate brachytherapy can be a good choice for treating prostate cancer. If your cancer is in the early stages, it may be the only treatment you need.

During HDR brachytherapy for prostate cancer, your doctor will:

  • Insert thin tubes into your prostate while you're under anesthesia.
  • Guide a source of radiation through the tubes into the prostate for minutes at a time. The cancer receives most of the radiation, while nearby healthy tissue gets a small dose.
  • Either remove the tubes or keep them in place if you need more rounds of HDR treatment.
  • Instruct you about your recovery.