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Yttrium-90 Internal Radiation Therapy

What Is Yttrium-90 Internal Radiation Therapy?

Yttrium-90 internal radiation therapy is a treatment for some inoperable cancers. Doctors also refer to Yttrium-90 internal radiation therapy as selective internal radiation therapy (SIRT) or brachytherapy.

Yttrium-90 is a radioactive isotope, a chemical element that gives off radiation. Radiation is a type of energy that can damage, shrink, or kill cancer cells, including tumors.

Our surgeons deliver this radiation by using special glass or resin beads, known as microspheres, that have yttrium-90 embedded in them.

During therapy, surgeons use a thin tube, called a catheter, to insert beads into an artery or blood vessel near the tumor. The beads partially block blood flow to the tumor while the yttrium-90 releases radiation close to it.

Because the radiation has a limited depth of travel through the tumor, there is limited harm to healthy tissue around the tumor. The beads stay at the tumor site while radiation releases over about two weeks. After a month or so, the beads are no longer radioactive and stop releasing radiation.

Our surgeons use yttrium-90 internal radiation therapy to treat several types of cancer:

In most cases, yttrium-90 internal radiation therapy is:

  • Minimally invasive, which means there are no big incisions or cuts.
  • Painless for most people.
  • Safe and well-tolerated.
  • Able to deliver a higher radiation dose than external radiation therapy or radiation given outside the body.
  • Helpful in preserving healthy tissue, as the radiation releases close to the tumor.

Yttrium-90 therapy isn't right for everyone, and you should discuss your treatment options with your care team. Risks of this treatment include:

  • An allergic reaction to materials used during the therapy, like contrast dyes that help your care team see images.
  • An infection at the site where the surgeon inserts the catheter.
  • Ulcers in the stomach or duodenum (the first part of the small intestine) if beads become stuck in the wrong place.

You may have side effects after yttrium-90 therapy for up to a week after treatment.

Side effects are often minimal but talk to your doctor about any side effects you should expect. Side effects may include:

  • An upset stomach and vomiting, with or without fever, sometimes called post-embolization syndrome.
  • Pain as blood supply to the treated area slows down or stops.
  • Tiredness and lethargy.

Before your procedure, your doctor might order you a blood test or an angiogram, a test that lets your doctor see and map the blood vessels near your tumor.

It's vital to make sure your care team has all the information they need before your treatment. Be sure to tell your doctor about:

  • Any medicines or pills you take, including vitamins, herbal supplements, aspirin, blood thinners, or anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen. Your doctor will tell you if you should stop taking them.
  • Any other medical conditions you have, or if you've been sick lately.
  • If there is a chance you could be pregnant.

On the day of your appointment, your care team might tell you to:

  • Wear comfortable clothes and no jewelry.
  • Ask someone to drive you home after your treatment.
  • Plan to limit contact with children and adults for a few days.

Because the beads stay in your body to deliver radiation, limit your contact with other people for a few days to prevent them from getting sick. You shouldn't sleep in the same bed with someone, sit right next to someone, or be close to a pregnant woman.

When you arrive for treatment, your care team will ask you to change into a gown, and we will prep you to receive intravenous (IV) fluids. The care team will watch your blood pressure and your heart during the treatment. Your doctor may also give you a sedative to help you relax.

During yttrium-90 therapy, you might feel:

  • A little pressure when your doctor inserts the catheter.
  • Some warmth when the specialist adds the contrast dye.
  • Brief discomfort when your doctor inserts the microspheres.

When the therapy ends, you'll stay in the recovery room until you're awake and ready to go home. Your care team will let you know about side effects to watch for, and what you should do if you experience them.

Most people are ready to go home a few hours after yttrium-90 therapy. You should be able to do most of your typical activities in a few days. Be sure to follow your doctor's instructions and let your care team know if you're not feeling well.

Contact Us About Regional Perfusion Cancer Treatment

Surgeons see Koch Center patients at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center in Shadyside.

To learn more about regional perfusion therapy, contact the David C. Koch Regional Perfusion Cancer Therapy Center. Alternatively, you can call UPMC Hillman Cancer Center at 412-692-2852.

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