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Radiation Implants for a Brain Tumor

Man in hospital gown sitting in chair. Bandage on side of man's head. Health care provider in led apron is standing next to man.
Members of your health care team and visitors may need to wear lead aprons or vests.
Radiation implants may be used to slow, help control tumor growth. This form of treatment is known as brachytherapy (also called interstitial radiation). With this process, the radiation attacks the tumor from within the body. The implants are placed in or near the tumor during a surgery that is followed by a hospital stay. Sometimes the implants are placed during the original surgery for the tumor, but they are often placed in a second operation, after the surgeon knows the pathology results for the specific tumor.

Brachytherapy allows higher doses of radiation to smaller areas, limiting the damage to surrounding tissues. It is often used together with other treatments like surgery, chemotherapy, or other types of radiation. The use of brachytherapy is limited by tumor size, accessibility, and location near other structures. Brachytherapy is not used as often as external radiation in treating brain tumors.


Brachytherapy is used for small, localized tumors. It may also be used along with other types of radiation.

  • You may be awake during the procedure. If so, local anesthesia may numb the area where the surgeon is working. Or general anesthesia may be given to let you sleep.

  • Thin, hollow tubes (called catheters) will be placed into small holes in your skull. The implants (also called seeds or pellets) are sent through the catheters into the tumor. Sometimes the catheters are removed right away, other times they are left in place until the seeds are removed.

  • The seeds may give off a low level of radiation. Because of this, you will be in a private room. Visitors may wear lead aprons or vests. You might need to wear a helmet or remain in the shielded room.

  • Some types of very low-dose seeds are left in place a few months or permanently. These seeds may need to be placed during open brain surgery (craniotomy). Their radioactivity wears off over time.

Side effects and risks include infection, seizures, headache, death of surrounding tissue (necrosis), and brain swelling.

Online Medical Reviewer: Alteri, Rick, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Cunningham, Louise, RN
Last Review Date: 7/14/2015
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