What is a Prostate Seed Implant?

Mary McMahon

A prostate seed implant is a radioactive implant inserted into the prostate for the purpose of treating cancer. By delivering radiation directly to the site of the tumor, the prostate seed implant provides targeted radiotherapy which is designed to shrink and eliminate the tumor with a minimum of radiation exposure for the patient. Patients who are candidates for a prostate seed implant may want to consider this option because it is less invasive than other forms of prostate cancer treatment.

Prostate seed implant delivers radiation therapy to the site of the tumor in the prostate.
Prostate seed implant delivers radiation therapy to the site of the tumor in the prostate.

The placement of radioactive materials inside or near the site of a cancer is known as brachytherapy, and prostate cancer seeds are sometimes referred to as prostate brachytherapy. The “seeds” used are about the size of grains of rice, and the number inserted can vary, depending on the patient, the shape and size of the prostate, and the cancer. The procedure is performed with the assistance of a medical professional who has experience and training with radiotherapy.

Using a prostate seed implant procedure may be considered when a patient has a low to moderately graded cancer which is well differentiated. In the procedure, the patient is placed under general or spinal anesthesia and the seeds are inserted with the assistance of medical imaging equipment to guide the placement and ensure that the seeds are properly and safely positioned. A prostate seed implant can also be combined with other cancer therapies if the patient's oncologist feels that combined treatment may be more effective.

Implants designed for temporary use provide a high dosage of radiation because they need to work quickly and completely before they are removed. Such implants are known as high dose radiation (HDR) implants. By contrast, permanent implants are a lower dose, and are called low dose radiation (LDR) implants. Before a prostate seed implant procedure takes place, the patient may want to ask about the options available as well as the risks and benefits of each.

Using this approach to cancer treatment allows the patient to retain the prostate, rather than having it surgically removed to excise the cancer. Some cancer researchers believe that this improves outcomes for the patient. However, there are some complications and risks associated with a prostate seed implant and the patient should discuss them with a physician. The patient may experience disruptions in urinary and bowel function, for example. There is also a risk that the treatment will not be effective and that more aggressive treatment options will need to be pursued.

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