Prostate cancer develops in the prostate gland, located in the pelvis between the penis and the bladder. The walnut-shaped gland produces the fluid part of semen.
In brachytherapy, radioactive seeds are implanted directly into the prostate, explains Dr. Michael Sarosdy, a urologic cancer specialist.
With this technique, the treatment works from within, right at the source of the disease.
Cancer patient Gerald Ellington, 63, recently underwent the procedure at San Antonio's Methodist Hospital.
He likes the fact that this newest option for prostate cancer patients doesn't require an incision, like surgery.
"When they cut you open, that's pretty invasive, and I'd just as soon avoid that if I could," Ellington says.
Brachytherapy uses slender needles that are inserted into an anaesthetized patient. Then, tiny capsules containing a radioactive substance, or seeds, are implanted through the skin behind the scrotum directly into the prostate.
Guided by ultrasound, doctors implant the seeds, about the size of a grain of rice. The procedure takes about an hour-and-a-half, and does not require an overnight hospital stay. As many as 100 seeds can be inserted.
After about a year, the radioactivity will be gone and hopefully, the cancer, too. The seeds will remain. The cure rate is 70 to 80 percent, similar to surgery.
Dr. Sarosdy says brachytherapy cuts down on unwanted side effects from surgery.
"Incontinence occurs in ten to twenty percent and impotence in the majority of patients," he says. "And those occur in no more than 10 to 20 percent of patients undergoing brachytherapy alone."
Dr. Sarosdy believes the therapy leads to better results because the seeds can be strategically placed, making the treatment more precise.
"The problem of taking the prostate out and leaving cancer behind really doesn't exist," he says.
About 30 percent of all prostate cancers are treated with brachytherapy, and that number is growing as more men seek to kill the disease without the unwanted side effects of surgery.