The side effects of brachytherapy are typically localized to the area being treated. Side effects depend on a number of factors, such as the type of cancer, the stage of the cancer, or if the patient has any other ongoing health problems. When discussing your treatment options, it is always important to ask your doctor about what side effects may occur given the details of your specific case.
Possible short-term, or "acute" side effects include:
- Localized bruising, swelling, bleeding, discharge or discomfort in the area where sources, catheters, or needles have been implanted. These usually resolve within a few days following completion of treatment.
- You may also feel fatigued for a short period following treatment.
- Brachytherapy treatment for cervical or prostate cancer may cause urinary symptoms such as urinary retention, urinary incontinence or painful urination (dysuria).
- Brachytherapy treatment for cervical or prostate cancer may result in increased bowel frequency, diarrhea, constipation or minor rectal bleeding.
- In the case of permanent (seed or LDR) brachytherapy for prostate cancer, there is a small chance that some seeds may migrate out of the treatment region into the bladder or urethra and be passed in the urine.
Most of the acute side effects associated with brachytherapy can be treated with medication and usually disappear over time, typically a matter of weeks after treatment is completed. Long-term side effects may occur in a small number of patients and are generally an effect of the radiation on adjacent tissues or organs.