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  • Writer's pictureVetMed Team

HDR Brachytherapy for Pets: Precision Radiation for Cancer

In the realm of veterinary medicine, advancements are continually being made to offer safer and more effective treatment options for our furry companions. Among these advancements is High Dose Rate (HDR) Brachytherapy, a sophisticated type of radiation therapy designed to treat certain types of cancers in pets. This article delves into what HDR Brachytherapy is, when it's used, and how it stands as a testament to the evolving landscape of minimally invasive veterinary procedures.

dog with nasal tumor

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What is HDR Brachytherapy for Pets?

High Dose Rate Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that allows for the precise delivery of radiation to tumors while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissues. In this procedure, radioactive sources are placed in or near the tumor, enabling a high dose of radiation to be delivered directly to the cancerous cells. The precise nature of this treatment minimizes collateral damage to the neighboring healthy tissues, which is a monumental advantage over traditional radiation therapy.

HDR Brachytherapy is performed under anesthesia, ensuring the pet remains still during the procedure, and the treatment is carried out in a single or few sessions, unlike conventional radiation therapy that might require numerous sessions over several weeks. The technical sophistication and precision involved in HDR Brachytherapy make it a viable option for treating certain types of cancers in pets, thereby expanding the horizons of minimally invasive veterinary cancer treatment.

The procedure begins with the careful planning by a team of veterinary radiation oncologists, who use advanced imaging techniques to map out the exact dimensions and location of the tumor. Tiny tubes or needles are then placed in or near the tumor, through which the radioactive sources are delivered. The treatment is highly tailored to each individual pet, considering the size, location, and type of tumor, ensuring optimal outcomes with minimal discomfort for the beloved pet.

This innovation in veterinary medicine underscores the potential of modern technology to enhance the quality of life for pets diagnosed with cancer, offering a glimmer of hope for pet parents and a significant stride towards reducing the invasiveness of cancer treatment.

When is HDR Brachytherapy Used?

As a cutting-edge medical procedure, HDR Brachytherapy is utilized under specific circumstances to address particular types of cancers in pets. The decision to proceed with this form of treatment is made after a thorough evaluation by veterinary oncologists. Below are some scenarios where HDR Brachytherapy might be considered:

  • Localized Tumors: HDR Brachytherapy is most effective for localized tumors, where cancer has not spread significantly to other areas of the body. The precise delivery of radiation is especially beneficial for treating tumors in critical or sensitive areas.

  • Recurrent Cancer: In cases where cancer has recurred following previous treatments, HDR Brachytherapy may be employed to manage the disease and prevent further spread.

  • Accessibility of Tumor: The tumor must be accessible for the placement of radioactive sources, either directly or through minimally invasive techniques.

  • Other Treatments Infeasible or Unsuccessful: If other treatment modalities are deemed risky, or have failed to achieve desired outcomes, HDR Brachytherapy may be considered as an alternative.

  • Prostate Cancer, Nasal Tumors, and Certain Skin Cancers: These types of cancers may be particularly amenable to treatment with HDR Brachytherapy due to their typically localized nature and accessibility.

  • Overall Health of the Pet: The general health and age of the pet are also taken into consideration when evaluating the suitability of HDR Brachytherapy as a treatment option.

This targeted approach in treating cancer underscores the evolution of veterinary medicine towards more personalized and minimally invasive procedures, providing pet parents with additional options to manage their pets’ health while ensuring a good quality of life.

Potential Risks Associated With HDR Brachytherapy

While HDR Brachytherapy is a remarkable advancement in veterinary oncology, like any medical procedure, it is accompanied by certain risks. The precision and localized radiation delivery of HDR Brachytherapy aim to mitigate the extent of these risks. However, it's imperative for pet parents and veterinarians to be informed about the potential complications that may arise. Below are some of the risks associated with HDR Brachytherapy:

  • Radiation Exposure: Although the treatment is designed to target the tumor precisely, there's still a risk of radiation exposure to the surrounding healthy tissues which could lead to localized side effects.

  • Anesthesia Risks: As the procedure requires the pet to be anesthetized, there are inherent risks associated with anesthesia, particularly for older pets or those with pre-existing medical conditions.

  • Infection: Any procedure that involves insertion of instruments into the body carries a risk of infection, despite stringent sterilization practices.

  • Tissue Damage: The high dose of radiation delivered can potentially cause damage to nearby tissues, leading to complications such as necrosis or ulceration.

  • Treatment Failure: Like any cancer treatment, there's a chance that HDR Brachytherapy may not succeed in controlling or eliminating the tumor.

  • Adverse Reactions to Radiation: Some pets may experience adverse reactions to radiation, including fatigue, skin irritation, and temporary or permanent hair loss at the treatment site.

  • Cost and Accessibility: The cost of HDR Brachytherapy can be substantial, and the specialized equipment required may not be available in all veterinary clinics. Luckily, VetMed specializes in HDR Brachytherapy. Contact us today to schedule an appointment!

Being well-versed with the potential risks allows for a well-informed decision when considering HDR Brachytherapy as a treatment option. It's essential to have an open discussion with the veterinary oncology team to understand the risks and benefits in the context of the pet's overall health and prognosis.

Preoperative Diagnostics and Tests

Prior to proceeding with HDR Brachytherapy, a thorough diagnostic evaluation is essential to ascertain the extent of the disease, the precise location of the tumor, and the overall health status of the pet. This preoperative phase is crucial for planning the treatment accurately to ensure optimal outcomes. Below are the subsections detailing the various diagnostics and tests involved in the preoperative assessment for HDR Brachytherapy.

Imaging Studies

Imaging studies are fundamental in visualizing the tumor and its surrounding structures. They provide vital information regarding the size, location, and extent of the tumor.

  • Computed Tomography (CT): A CT scan provides detailed cross-sectional images of the body and is invaluable in planning the radiation therapy.

  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): MRI may be used to obtain high-resolution images, especially useful in visualizing soft tissue tumors.

  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound is a non-invasive imaging modality that may be used to examine the tumor and nearby structures.

  • X-rays: X-rays may be used for initial evaluation and to check for metastasis to the lungs or other organs.


A biopsy involves taking a sample of the tumor tissue for microscopic examination to confirm the diagnosis and determine the type and grade of cancer.

  • Fine Needle Aspiration (FNA): A less invasive procedure where a thin needle is used to extract cells from the tumor for examination.

  • Core Needle Biopsy: A larger needle is used to obtain a tissue sample, providing more detailed information than FNA.

  • Incisional or Excisional Biopsy: A surgical procedure to remove part or all of the tumor for examination.

Blood Tests and Other Laboratory Examinations

Routine blood tests and other laboratory examinations are performed to assess the pet's overall health and to identify any potential issues that might affect the anesthesia or treatment.

  • Complete Blood Count (CBC): To assess the pet's overall health and to detect disorders such as anemia and infection.

  • Biochemistry Profile: To evaluate the function of various organs including the liver and kidneys.

  • Urinalysis: To check for signs of urinary tract infection or other urinary system issues.

Cardiac and Respiratory Assessment

A thorough examination of the heart and lungs is crucial to assess the pet's ability to tolerate anesthesia and the procedure.

  • Echocardiogram: To evaluate the heart's structure and function.

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG): To monitor the heart's electrical activity.

  • Chest X-rays: To check for any abnormalities in the lungs and thoracic cavity.

The preoperative diagnostic phase is a meticulous process aimed at gathering all necessary information to ensure the safety and efficacy of the HDR Brachytherapy procedure. Through a combination of imaging studies, biopsies, laboratory tests, and cardiac and respiratory assessments, the veterinary oncology team is well-equipped to devise a tailored treatment plan for the pet, taking into consideration the unique aspects of each case. This thorough evaluation underscores the commitment to providing the highest standard of care in the realm of veterinary oncology.

How To Prepare Your Pet For HDR Brachytherapy

Preparing your pet for HDR Brachytherapy is a crucial step towards ensuring a successful treatment outcome. It involves several measures that aim to optimize your pet's physical health and create a conducive environment for the procedure. Following the steps outlined by the veterinary oncology team will contribute to a smoother treatment process and faster recovery for your beloved companion.

Step 1: Veterinary Consultation

Schedule a thorough consultation with your veterinarian and the oncology team to understand the procedure, risks, benefits, and the expected outcomes. Discuss any concerns you may have and ensure all your questions are answered.

Step 2: Preoperative Assessment

Ensure all preoperative diagnostics and tests are completed as recommended by the veterinary oncology team. Discuss the results of these tests with your veterinarian to understand the implications on the treatment plan.

Step 3: Medication and Diet Review

Review your pet's current medication and dietary regimen with the veterinarian. Make any necessary adjustments as advised to optimize your pet's health for the procedure.

Step 4: Fasting

Adhere to the fasting guidelines provided by the veterinary team, typically withholding food and sometimes water for a specified period before the procedure.

Step 5: Pre-Anesthetic Medications

Administer any pre-anesthetic medications as prescribed by the veterinarian. It's important to follow the instructions carefully to ensure the safety and efficacy of the anesthesia.

Step 6: Comfort Measures

Provide a comfortable and calm environment for your pet to reduce anxiety before the procedure. Spend quality time with your pet, offering reassurance and comfort.

Step 7: Arrival at the Clinic

Arrive at the veterinary clinic on time for the appointment. Follow the instructions provided by the veterinary team regarding check-in procedures.

Step 8: Post-Procedure Instructions

Understand the post-procedure care instructions, including medication administration, wound care, and follow-up appointments. Make sure you have all necessary supplies and medications before leaving the clinic.

Preparing your pet for HDR Brachytherapy involves a collaborative effort between pet parents and the veterinary team. Adhering to the guidelines provided and maintaining open communication with the veterinary oncology team will significantly contribute to a successful treatment experience. This meticulous preparation underscores the commitment to providing the best possible care for pets facing cancer treatment, aligning with the overarching goal of enhancing the quality of life for our cherished animal companions.

General Instructions for the Day of the Procedure

The day of the HDR Brachytherapy procedure is a significant one for both pet parents and their furry companions. Adhering to the instructions provided by the veterinary team is crucial to ensuring the procedure goes smoothly and safely. Here are the general instructions segmented into subsections for better comprehension and adherence:

Arrival and Check-in

  • Arrive at the veterinary clinic on time as per the appointment schedule.

  • Complete any necessary paperwork and ensure all your contact information is accurate and up to date.

  • Discuss any last-minute concerns or questions you may have with the veterinary team.

Fasting Guidelines

  • Ensure your pet has been fasted as per the guidelines provided by the veterinary team, usually withholding food for 8 to 12 hours prior, and sometimes water for 2 to 4 hours before the procedure.

Medication Administration

  • If your pet is on any medications, discuss with the veterinary oncologist whether to administer the medication on the day of the procedure or not.

  • Follow the instructions regarding pre-anesthetic or other medications that were prescribed during the preoperative consultation.

Personal Belongings

  • Bring any personal belongings that may comfort your pet, like a favorite blanket or toy, but check with the veterinary staff to ensure it's okay to leave them with your pet.


  • Provide the best contact number to reach you at during the procedure in case the veterinary team needs to get in touch.

  • Discuss the expected duration of the procedure and when you should return to pick up your pet or receive an update.

Post-Procedure Pick-Up

  • Understand the pick-up process and the post-procedure care instructions before leaving the clinic.

  • Ensure you have all necessary medications, supplies, and contact information for any concerns that may arise post-procedure.

Adherence to the instructions for the day of the HDR Brachytherapy procedure is paramount for the safety and well-being of your pet. The guidelines provided by the veterinary oncology team are tailored to ensure the procedure is conducted under optimal conditions, laying the foundation for a successful treatment outcome. Through a well-orchestrated collaborative effort between pet parents and the veterinary team, the day of the procedure can unfold smoothly, marking a significant stride in the journey towards better health for your pet.

What Happens During an HDR Brachytherapy Procedure

HDR Brachytherapy is a sophisticated and precise form of radiation therapy aimed at treating certain types of cancers in pets. Understanding the steps involved in the procedure can provide reassurance to pet parents and contribute to better preparation for what lies ahead. Below are the key steps that unfold during an HDR Brachytherapy procedure:

Step 1: Anesthesia Administration

  • Your pet will be administered general anesthesia to ensure they remain still and comfortable throughout the procedure.

  • The anesthesia will be carefully monitored by a veterinary anesthetist to ensure your pet's safety.

Step 2: Positioning and Imaging

  • Your pet will be positioned on the treatment table in a way that allows precise access to the tumor.

  • Imaging studies such as CT or MRI may be performed to confirm the exact location and dimensions of the tumor.

Step 3: Catheter Placement

  • Specialized catheters or needles will be inserted into or around the tumor, guided by the imaging studies.

  • The positioning of these catheters is crucial for the accurate delivery of radiation.

Step 4: Treatment Planning

  • A detailed treatment plan will be devised by the veterinary radiation oncologist, using advanced software to calculate the radiation dose and delivery pattern.

  • The plan is tailored to deliver a high dose of radiation to the tumor while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissues.

Step 5: Radiation Delivery

  • The HDR Brachytherapy machine will be connected to the catheters, and the radioactive source will be delivered to the treatment area.

  • The radiation delivery is automated and precisely controlled to adhere to the treatment plan.

Step 6: Radiation Source Withdrawal

  • Once the radiation delivery is completed, the radioactive source will be withdrawn back into the HDR Brachytherapy machine.

  • The catheters or needles will be carefully removed from your pet’s body.

Step 7: Monitoring

  • Your pet will be closely monitored as they recover from anesthesia.

  • Vital signs including heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature will be checked to ensure your pet is recovering well.

Step 8: Recovery

  • Once fully awake, your pet will be moved to a recovery area where they will continue to be monitored until ready for discharge.

  • Post-procedure care instructions will be provided to pet parents upon discharge.

The HDR Brachytherapy procedure is a highly coordinated endeavor that combines advanced technology with the expertise of a multidisciplinary veterinary team. Each step of the procedure is executed with meticulous attention to detail, aimed at delivering a curative radiation dose to the tumor while safeguarding the well-being of the pet. The endeavor reflects the ongoing commitment in veterinary medicine to offer minimally invasive yet highly effective cancer treatment options for our cherished animal companions.

Recovery and Management After an HDR Brachytherapy Procedure

The period following an HDR Brachytherapy procedure is crucial for ensuring the well-being and comfort of your pet. A structured recovery and management plan, crafted in consultation with the veterinary oncology team, plays a pivotal role in navigating this phase. The following outlines the key aspects of recovery and management that pet parents should be cognizant of post-procedure:

Immediate Post-Procedure Monitoring

  • Your pet will be closely monitored by the veterinary team as the anesthesia wears off, ensuring vital signs remain stable.

  • Pain management will be a priority, with appropriate medications administered to keep your pet comfortable.

Discharge Instructions

  • Upon discharge, you'll be provided with detailed instructions on post-procedure care, including wound care, medication administration, and activity restrictions.

  • It's crucial to follow these instructions diligently to foster a smooth recovery.

Medication Management

  • Administer all prescribed medications as directed, which may include pain relievers, anti-inflammatories, and antibiotics to prevent infection.

  • Ensure you understand the dosage, timing, and any potential side effects of the medications.

Wound Care

  • If applicable, keep the wound area clean and dry, and prevent your pet from licking or scratching at it.

  • Monitor the wound for signs of infection such as redness, swelling, or discharge, and report any concerns to the veterinary team.

Activity Restrictions

  • Adhere to any activity restrictions advised by the veterinarian to prevent injury and allow the treatment area to heal.

  • Gradually reintroduce activity as advised, monitoring your pet's tolerance and comfort.

Follow-Up Appointments

  • Attend all scheduled follow-up appointments to allow the veterinary oncology team to assess the healing process and the effectiveness of the treatment.

  • Additional imaging or tests may be performed to evaluate the response to treatment.

Nutritional Support

  • Provide a balanced diet to support your pet's healing and overall health.

  • Consult with your veterinarian regarding any dietary adjustments that may be beneficial during the recovery phase.

Emotional Support

  • Offer plenty of love, comfort, and reassurance to your pet as they recover.

  • Maintain a calm and stable environment to reduce stress and promote healing.

Recovery and management post-HDR Brachytherapy are as integral to the treatment process as the procedure itself. Adherence to the post-procedure care plan, coupled with a supportive environment, significantly contributes to the holistic well-being of your pet. This phase also exemplifies the collaborative effort between pet parents and the veterinary healthcare team, embodying a shared commitment to nurturing the health and comfort of our beloved animal companions in the aftermath of cancer treatment.

Results & Follow-Up After an HDR Brachytherapy Procedure

The journey toward recuperation following an HDR Brachytherapy procedure is punctuated by keen observation of the results and adhering to a structured follow-up regimen. The collaboration between pet parents and the veterinary oncology team continues well beyond the procedure to ensure optimal outcomes and address any concerns promptly. Here’s an outline of what to expect in terms of results and follow-up after an HDR Brachytherapy procedure:

Assessment of Treatment Effectiveness

The effectiveness of the treatment is evaluated through follow-up examinations, imaging studies, and, in some cases, repeat biopsies. Monitoring the size and appearance of the tumor, as well as the overall health and comfort of your pet, provides crucial insights into the treatment’s success.

Scheduled Follow-Up Appointments

Regular follow-up appointments are essential for monitoring the progress of recovery and the response of the tumor to the treatment. During these appointments, the veterinary oncology team may conduct physical examinations, imaging studies, and other tests to assess the treatment outcome.

Communication with Veterinary Team

Maintaining open communication with the veterinary team allows for prompt identification and management of any concerns or complications that may arise. Reporting any new or worsening symptoms between scheduled follow-ups is imperative for timely intervention.

Long-Term Monitoring

HDR Brachytherapy aims for long-term control or eradication of the tumor. However, continuous monitoring is crucial as there's always a risk of recurrence or the development of new tumors. Adhering to a long-term monitoring plan, including regular check-ups and imaging studies, will ensure any changes are detected and addressed promptly.

Maintenance of a Healthy Lifestyle

Supporting your pet in maintaining a healthy lifestyle through a balanced diet, regular exercise (as advised by the veterinarian), and routine veterinary care contributes to their overall well-being and longevity. Ensuring a stress-free and comfortable environment also plays a role in promoting a positive outlook post-treatment.

The results and follow-up phase post-HDR Brachytherapy encapsulates a diligent approach towards monitoring and fostering the well-being of your pet. It's a testament to the enduring commitment between pet parents and veterinary healthcare providers in navigating the path of cancer treatment. This collaborative endeavor aims not just at addressing the disease but enhancing the quality of life, underscoring the essence of holistic veterinary care in the realm of modern pet healthcare.

VetMed Performs HDR Brachytherapy for Pets

At VetMed, pioneering the realm of minimally invasive veterinary procedures is at the core of our mission, and HDR Brachytherapy stands as a testament to this endeavor. With a dedicated team, we employ HDR Brachytherapy to provide a highly precise, effective, and minimally invasive treatment option for pets diagnosed with certain types of cancer.


Questions You've Asked Us About HDR Brachytherapy for Pets

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What types of cancer can HDR Brachytherapy treat in pets?

HDR Brachytherapy is often employed to treat localized tumors such as prostate cancer, nasal tumors, and certain skin cancers. Its precise radiation delivery makes it suitable for treating tumors in critical or sensitive areas where minimizing damage to surrounding tissues is crucial.

How long does the HDR Brachytherapy procedure take?

Will my pet experience pain during or after the HDR Brachytherapy procedure?

What are the risks associated with HDR Brachytherapy?

How soon can we expect to see results from the HDR Brachytherapy?


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