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Department of Radiation Oncology

Department of Radiation Oncology

High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy

For more than a decade, UC Davis has been one of only a few hospitals in the Sacramento Valley to offer HDR brachytherapy and is a recognized leader in the field. 

HDR brachytherapy is a state-of-the-art cancer treatment that places the radioactive source inside or in contact with the body — as opposed to treatment with an external beam. HDR brachytherapy can be used to treat several different types of cancer, including gynecological, breast, head and neck, esophagus, lung, anorectal, bile duct or sarcoma. High-dose, localized radiation is inserted temporarily, delivering the treatment quickly to the tumor and limiting the dose on adjacent body organs. HDR is often done on an outpatient basis, and can reduce treatment time from six to eight weeks of daily external radiation therapy to as little as three to 10 days, depending on the type of cancer being treated. If patients also need chemotherapy, HDR brachytherapy allows them to start that treatment sooner, possibly improving their chances for a cure.  Compared to conventional treatments, HDR brachytherapy can result in fewer side effects as well. After treatment, the radiation source is removed from the patient and the patient is no longer radioactive.

HDR brachytherapy is highly effective for treatment of cervical cancer as an alternative to surgical removal of the cervix and uterus.  It is also often used prevent recurrence of some cancers following surgery.

Our advanced HDR brachytherapy program uses the following treatments:


MammoSite is a new radiation therapy system that uses a balloon catheter to deliver radiation directly to the area surrounding an excised tumor. Named for the special catheter that works with high dose rate (HDR) radiation, MammoSite provides accelerated partial breast irradiation to patients diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.

With MammoSite, radiation treatment time is reduced by several weeks and only a limited area of the total breast gets radiated. Healthier breast tissue, therefore, is conserved than in traditional external beam radiation.

Following a surgery called a lumpectomy, women who qualify for MammoSite get treated twice a day for five days in our outpatient clinic. After the 10 treatments, the catheter is removed. Typical side effects of external beam irradiation, such as skin irritation and fatigue, are largely eliminated by MammoSite's unique design which allows only a few minutes of intense internal dosing to the specifically affected breast tissue.

SAVI Breast Brachytherapy Device

SAVI is one of the newest technologies in accelerated partial-breast radiation therapy, and UC Davis is one of the few cancer centers in Northern California that offer this life-saving procedure.

SAVI is a breast brachytherapy device that has the unique ability to conform to the exact size and shape of each patient’s lumpectomy cavity — precisely controlling the radiation dose to the former site of the tumor. While similar to the more commonly used balloon catheter devices, SAVI offers significantly more precision and allows the radiation oncologist to tailor to each patient’s specific anatomy and disease process. It is also often more suitable for women of all breast sizes.

The SAVI applicator, which may be placed at the time of the lumpectomy or as a separate outpatient procedure, is a bundle of tiny, flexible catheters that can be opened as needed to fit the cavity. The radiation oncologist uses the catheters to apply the exact radiation dose needed for each portion of the breast, while at the same time protecting the surrounding healthy tissue such as the heart, lung, ribs and chest wall. In addition to the comprehensive safety measures that UC Davis maintains, the new SAVI device includes several built-in safety controls to ensure that each patient’s treatment is both safe and effective.

Due to the precise nature of the treatment, SAVI radiation treatment takes only five days, a significantly shorter amount of time than conventional treatment. Twice a day, the SAVI applicator is connected to the radiation source for about 5-10 minutes.  Once the five-day treatment is completed, the SAVI device is removed by the radiation oncologist and the incision site simply needs to be cleaned and bandaged.

Gynecological HDR

UC Davis has a variety of sophisticated radiation implantation devices for gynecological brachytherapy treatment, including the state-of-the-art GammaMed HDR device. This treatment planning system accelerates therapy time, provides for more accurate treatment and produces fewer side effects. It also allows for dramatically better image processing, which aids the radiation oncologist in delivering the most precise and targeted doses possible.

All of the treatment machines used for gynecological HDR brachytherapy at UC Davis are capable of conforming to each patient’s particular anatomy and tumor specifications. They also offer top-notch safety features that limit exposure to nearby, critical tissues such as the vagina, bladder and rectum.