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Discharge Instructions for Balloon Breast Brachytherapy

You had a procedure done to put a balloon breast brachytherapy catheter into your breast. It will be used to give you internal radiation treatment for breast cancer. The end of the catheter is in the same place the cancer was inside your breast. There's a small balloon filled with salt water (saline) on the end. It's holding it snugly in place. The catheter and balloon will stay in for a week or 2, or until your treatment is done. Part of the catheter sticks out of your skin and has a protective plastic cap on the end.

You will get your radiation treatments through this catheter. It's hooked up to a computer-controlled machine that moves the radiation source in and out of the catheter. A wire with a radioactive pellet on the end will go into and deliver radiation from the catheter. This will take about 10 to 20 minutes. It's done twice a day (about 6 hours apart) for about 5 days.

It's important to understand that the radiation is only working during the time that the radioactive pellet is inside the balloon. It's removed by the same machine that put it in. As soon as the catheter is capped, you can leave the treatment room. You are not radioactive and don't have to worry about exposing other people to radiation.

Here’s what you need to know about caring for the catheter at home.

Catheter site care

Here are steps you should follow. If you have any questions, ask a member of your treatment team.

  • Don’t remove the plastic end cap from the catheter. It's a protective barrier.

  • Don’t remove the wound closure tapes (steri-strips) that are over the cut (incision) on your breast. Let them fall off on their own.

  • Wear the special bra you were given at all times, even when you're sleeping. The bra supports your breast and helps keep the catheter in place.

  • Don't twist or rotate the catheter.

  • Clean the catheter exit site (where the catheter comes out of your skin) each day after your treatments. Call your healthcare provider if you have any questions about cleaning the site. Here are general steps you can follow:

    • Use sterile saline solution (salt water) to clean your skin.

    • Put on an antibiotic cream.

    • Cover it with a sterile gauze pad to absorb any fluid.

    • If you have a lot of clear, pink drainage from the site, you may need to change the dressing more often. Clean the exit site and change the gauze anytime you notice it's wet.

Other home care

Other suggestions include:

  • Do your normal activities as you feel able. Follow your healthcare provider’s instructions about what you can and can’t do.

  • Don’t carry or lift anything over 5 pounds with the arm on the treatment side.

  • Take all your medicines as directed. Be sure you know what they're for, when and how to take them, and what side effects to watch for.

  • While the catheter is in place, don't get your breast wet. You can take sponge baths and wash your hair over a sink. Don’t shower, soak in a tub or pool, or do anything that causes the treated breast to get wet.

When to call your healthcare provider

Call your healthcare provider right away if you have any of the following:

  • Fever of 100.4°F (38°C) or higher, or chills

  • Sudden and large amount of drainage from catheter site (may be red, pink, or clear)

  • Any unusual bleeding or bleeding that soaks the bandage

  • New breast redness or pain

  • Pus-like or bad-smelling drainage from the catheter site

  • The cap comes off the catheter

  • Cough or shortness of breath

  • Chest pain

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Pain that doesn’t go away, especially if it’s always in the same place

  • New or unusual lumps, bumps, or swelling

Know what problems to watch for and when you need to call your healthcare provider. Also be sure you know how to get help any time you have problems or questions, including after office hours, on weekends, and on holidays. 

Online Medical Reviewer: Dave Herold MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Kimberly Stump-Sutliff RN MSN AOCNS
Online Medical Reviewer: Louise Cunningham RN BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 7/1/2021
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