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Brachytherapy is internal radiotherapy. Radioactive material is placed inside the body, so it can destroy the cancer cells.
We know that brachytherapy can sound and look scary, and may have a big emotional impact on you. However you feel, we are here to support you. You may find it helpful to give us a call on 0808 802 8000 before or after treatment, or speak with our 1:1 service.
Brachytherapy is internal radiotherapy. Radioactive material is put into your vagina to give radiotherapy directly to the cervix and the area close by. It is also called intrauterine brachytherapy.
This might sound frightening, but your healthcare team carefully plan the treatment to make sure it causes as little harm to the rest of your body as possible.
Radiotherapy is often used together with chemotherapy to treat cervical cancer. This is called chemoradiation. You may be offered brachytherapy along with chemoradiation.
You may have brachytherapy to help reduce the risk of the cancer coming back after surgery. This is called adjuvant treatment.
Not everyone needs this after surgery. You may only need it if:
You may have brachytherapy if you have locally advanced cervical cancer that can’t be treated with surgery. This is called radical treatment.
A team of healthcare professionals, called a multidisciplinary team or MDT, will discuss your test results, diagnosis and medical history to help decide which treatments are best for you.
It is important that you are involved in any decisions about your treatment. You need to know and understand all the information about the treatment, including the benefits and risks.
You may also want to think about how having the treatment might impact on your life, including:
Brachytherapy can damage your ovaries. This you almost definitely won’t be able to get pregnant and have a child or more children after treatment.
You will probably feel very emotional about this, which can make it hard to think about some practical steps you could take. But it is important to discuss these options with your healthcare team before you start treatment. Before treatment, you may be able to:
This may delay treatment, so you will need to consider any risks of doing that. Your healthcare team can explain how it might affect your individual situation. Unfortunately, egg and embryo freezing is not always possible and these services are not available in every hospital.
Ovarian transposition is a surgery to move your ovaries away from where the radiotherapy part of your treatment will be aimed. It is done to try and prevent early menopause, which means you may still be able to have a child or more children.
You have it before brachytherapy starts. Whether it can be done will depend on:
Unfortunately, ovarian transposition does not always work. You may have the surgery but still go through early menopause and be unable to have children.
Your immune system protects the body from infection by finding and killing germs, bacteria or viruses. Brachytherapy doesn’t usually have a big impact on the immune system.
Having radiotherapy usually means you need to go to the hospital a lot for appointments. Your hospital is doing as much as possible to reduce the risk of getting or becoming ill with COVID-19. When your healthcare team are supporting you to make treatment decisions, they will consider the risk of COVID-19 as part of this. In most hospitals we have spoken to, radiotherapy is continuing as usual for cervical cancer patients. But your healthcare team may talk to you about:
Your healthcare team may ask you to self-isolate for about 2 weeks before and after radiotherapy. They will let you know what you should and shouldn’t do during this time.
If you are having chemotherapy as well as radiotherapy (chemoradiation), your immune system may be weaker and you might be asked to follow different guidance.
Your brachytherapy treatment will usually start after you have already been through chemotherapy, radiotherapy, and possibly surgery. The physical impact of this, combined with the emotional impact of a cervical cancer diagnosis and everything you are going through, should not be underestimated.
Before starting brachytherapy, it is important to talk with your healthcare team about any physical symptoms your previous treatment has had. You want to start brachytherapy feeling as well as possible, so anything they can suggest or prescribe to help manage these symptoms will help.
You will also need to rest as much as possible. You will probably be feeling very tired and weak already, and brachytherapy can make this worse.
It might help to think about things you may need support with, including:
You may have already have figured out transport to and from the hospital. But if you haven’t, try to arrange this ahead of time. It is worth speaking to the hospital to find out if they can offer help with transport.
If you are worried about finances and getting support, there are organisations that can help:
The idea of having brachytherapy can be worrying. You may have searched for images or experiences that have scared you. We want you to know that we understand these feelings and are here to support you through your treatment.
Part of feeling emotionally ready for brachytherapy is preparing for the way it may feel. You will probably find that having brachytherapy is uncomfortable – it may even be painful. You must let your healthcare team know if you are uncomfortable or in pain. They will give you pain medication to help and will do everything they can to make you more comfortable.
It might help to figure out what helps you feel relaxed. This can be useful before and during brachytherapy. You could try:
The NHS recommends different phone apps to support your mental health, including some for relaxation.
You may find it helpful to talk to someone else who has had brachytherapy. While it’s important to remember that everyone’s experience is different, hearing someone describe their treatment could be helpful. We have a wonderful community on our online Forum. Many of them have already had treatment and want to offer support to those who are about to have it. You can post any questions you have or simply read through the messages that are already there.
If you find that waiting to have brachytherapy, or having it, has a big impact on your mental health, it is important to get support as soon as possible. You do not have to struggle with anything alone – whether you have a low mood because of your diagnosis or feel traumatised after treatment.
Brachytherapy can have a huge impact on your physical and emotional wellbeing. You may be dealing with the effects of other treatments, such as radiotherapy, as well as continuing to process a cervical cancer diagnosis and all that can bring.
Your healthcare team, both at the hospital and at your GP surgery, are there to support you with any questions or worries you have. Remember that we are here for you too, whether you are waiting for brachytherapy, in the middle of treatment, or years past it. Our trained volunteers can listen and help you understand what’s going on via our free Helpline on 0808 802 8000.
Sometimes connecting with others who have gone through a similar experience can be helpful. Our online Forum lets our community give and get support. You can read through the messages or post your own – whichever feels most comfortable.
If you have general questions about brachytherapy, our panel of medical experts may be able to help. They can’t give you answers about your individual situation or health – it’s best to speak with your GP or healthcare team for that.
Thank you to all the experts who checked the accuracy of this information, and the volunteers who shared their personal experience to help us develop it.
We write our information based on literature searches and expert review. For more information about the references we used, please contact [email protected].