What is brachytherapy?

Dating back to very soon after the discovery of radioactivity in 1896, brachytherapy in its most simple form is bringing a radioactive source close to a tumour so the radiation can damage and kill the tumour cells. In Greek, brachy (or brachios)means close, so brachytherapy is literally close therapy. Radiation from metals such as radium was used for many years to treat cancers in all areas of the body. At this time there were no means to artificially create x-rays so all radiation treatments required radioactive metals.

Fast forward over 100 years and modern brachytherapy as practiced at The Christie is a much more hi-tech treatment, but still holds true to the original practice of holding a small piece of radioactive material close to (or inside) a tumour. Special machines called afterloaders hold the tiny radioactive source (smaller than a grain of rice) in a safe place, until it is needed for treatment. Specialist radiographers and physicists use complex computers to precisely plan the treatment to sub-millimetre precision which can manipulate the radiation to precisely match the area which the doctor specifies needs to be treated.

As the radioactive source is so close to even inside the tumour, it means we can deliver a high radiation dose to damage and kill the tumour cells while limiting the dose to other healthy areas of the body, effectively treating the tumour while minimising side effects. With over 100 years of experience in treating brachytherapy patients The Christie is proud of its part as a pioneer of brachytherapy treatments and its modern role as a world class centre offering state-of-the-art brachytherapy facilities for the 21st century.

Last updated: August 2019

Christie stories during the COVID-19 pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, we're doing all we can to make sure patients get the treatment, information and support they need. Read some stories from our patients and staff to find out what The Christie is doing at this difficult time.

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Corinne Faivre Finn
“We have seen a lot of our research staff return to the office. This has massively improved morale as it is a lot easier to connect with people.”
Corinne Faivre-Finn, Christie consultant
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“The experience has allowed me to be able to hear what is not being said. The extraordinary strength and resilience of individuals as they greet you with a smile… when you are aware of the pain and anguish they will be going through.”
Digital services team, redeployed to telephone patients
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“Of course, the COVID-19 virus has not gone away – we have to be cautious and we have to proceed in an appropriate way.”
Professor John Radford, director of research at The Christie
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