Radioactive Seed Implantation

Size of typical radioactive seed.

(Image courtesy Bard Medical.)


Brachytherapy refers to radiation therapy in which the source of the radiation is brought into the immediate proximity of cancerous areas to kill cancer tissue, rather than using an external beam of radiation for the same purpose.  “Brachy” means short distance, and in the most common form of brachytherapy, radiation oncologists use narrow needle-like tubes to insert small sources of radiation next to, or into, tumors for brief or extended periods of time.

Small seeds or pellets of radioactive material may then be removed, or may be left permanently after their radiation activity dissipates.  Brachytherapy may cause fewer side effects than external-beam radiation, and the time required to undergo the treatment is usually shorter.

Seed implantation is a highly convenient and successful form of treatment for patients, and it minimizes radiation exposure to healthy tissuesThe best-known, most widely used form of brachytherapy in recent years has been radioactive seed implantation for prostate cancer.  Aria specialists have pioneered this treatment in their community.  Starting in the late 1990s, Aria developed a seed-implant program that has helped many men avoid surgery while finding a cure for their prostate cancer.

At Aria, a skilled, experienced team consisting of a urologist, radiation oncologist, and a radiation physicist work closely together to create an individualized treatment plan for each patient.  They use CT and ultrasound – and highly engineered seed placement equipment – to briefly introduce a specially designed system of fine tubes into the prostate gland, through which they implant radioactive seeds in and around prostate cancer tissue.

Seed array shown on postoperative x-ray.  (Image courtesy Bard Medical.)

The orientation of the seeds is based on these radiologic images and this sophisticated targeting system.   Each patient’s customized array of seeds may remain safely and permanently in place after doing its job of destroying cancer tissue.

Cancer treatment teams sometimes use this strategy of delivering localized radiation therapy to tumor tissue in combination with conventional external-beam radiation, surgery, or chemotherapy.  The approach is effective in a number of areas of cancer care.