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Internal Radiation Therapy (Brachytherapy) for Esophageal Cancer

For this type of radiation, your doctor uses a small tube (catheter) or wire placed down the throat to insert radiation in or near the tumor. The tube is left in place for a certain amount of time. The radiation travels only a short distance, so it affects mainly just cancer cells. Because the radiation travels only a short distance, it can't be used to treat large tumors. It is most often used to help relieve symptoms from more advanced cancers. 

How to prepare for internal radiation

To prepare for internal radiation therapy, you’ll have an appointment for some imaging tests. These tests may include a CT scan and esophageal ultrasound. They help your doctor see inside your esophagus and surrounding area. That way, he or she can map out exactly where the radiation needs to be placed.

What happens on the day of internal radiation

On the day of the procedure, you may have a local anesthetic or general anesthesia so you fall asleep and don’t feel pain. While you lie on your back, your surgeon inserts a tube, called a catheter, into your esophagus. Your doctor uses the tube to place a tiny bit of radioactive dye. This dye helps your doctor see your esophagus on a special type of X-ray called a fluoroscopy so he or she knows where the tumor is.

Once he or she has a clear view of your esophagus, your surgeon carefully guides a wire or catheter to the cancer. These allow the surgeon to deliver the radiation.

What to expect after internal radiation therapy

These are some common side effects of internal radiation during the first week:

  • Swelling or bruising in the area treated

  • Pain

  • Difficulty swallowing or eating

Your doctor will give you instructions for how to ease these effects. Ask your doctor or nurse to tell you whether there are any side effects that you should immediately call him or her about.

You may be able to return to work in three or four days.

Some effects may continue after internal radiation. Or they may not appear until months later. If you have difficulty swallowing and eating, be sure to tell your doctor. Ask about other side effects that you should watch for and report.

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