Brachytherapy Treatment for Prostate Cancer

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What is Prostate Cancer?

Prostate cancer is the growth of malignant cells in the prostate gland. The most common form is Adenocarcinoma. The prostate sits at the base of a man’s pelvis, between the bladder and rectum. The prostate gland’s job is to provide a man’s sperm with nutrients.

Brachytherapy Basics

Brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer requires an outpatient surgery. This minimally invasive procedure involves implanting tiny radioactive seeds directly into the prostate gland. These permanent seeds are about the size of a grain of rice. They cannot be felt by the cancer patient as they irradiate the cancer from inside. Because of this procedure brachytherapy also goes by the term seed implant therapy.


Brachytherapy is not a brand new treatment. In fact this procedure was introduced back in the early 1970’s. Dr. Willet Whitmore, a urologist discovered this treatment. It debut in New York City at the Sloan-Kettering Memorial Cancer Center. Unlike today, the procedure was an open surgery. The radioactive seeds were placed without the help of ultrasound equipment.


A doctor needs to determine the volume and size of the affected prostate gland in order to decide upon the right brachytherapy procedure necessary. This is done by having a transrectal ultrasound done. Before implanting the seeds, the patient will be put under anesthesia. The seeds are inserted through the perineum using the images on an ultrasound. The seeds are left in the prostate. They provide localized radioaction for several months to destroy the prostate cancer.

Low Dose and High Dose Brachytherapy

LDR or Low Dose Rate Brachytherapy involves just receiving the seed implants. There is on average 70-150 permanent seeds needed to treat prostate cancer. Men who have early stage prostate cancer or whose cancer is completely confined to the prostate gland are good candidates for LDR.

HDR or High Dose Rate Brachytherapy is a little more involved. The doctor needs to place needles into the prostate and deliver a radioactive source into the prostate. This is a temporary procedure that is completed over the span of a few weeks. It is recommended especially for men dealing with high-risk prostate cancer. If there is any chance the cancer has spread beyond the prostate gland, then HDR is generally recommended. Advances in seed technology includes the placement of seeds beyond the prostate. This is helpful in treating cancer that has begun to spread.

How Effective is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is highly effective in the treatment of prostate cancer. Data that was presented by John E. Sylvester, MD at the American Society showed that over a 12-year study there was an 81%-93% survival rate. This demonstrates substantial evidence for the effectiveness of this treatment for prostate cancer.

Side Effects

Patients undergoing brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer may experience mild side effects. This can include a burning sensation during urination or an increase in urinary frequency. Typically these symptoms will resolve themselves over a few weeks to a few months after the initial treatment.


There are few risks involved with brachytherapy. Mainly, there is a chance of developing incontinence or experiencing impotence. Chances are though, that without the treatment, prostate cancer patients will experience the same problems. Prescription drugs such as Viagra, Cialis or Levitra can help in resolving impotence.


Fox Chase Cancer Center -

Prostate Cancer Institute -

Urology Institute -

Med Terms -