Understanding Prostate Cancer: Radiation Therapy

For any stage of prostate cancer, radiation therapy is an option. If you have early stage prostate cancer, you may choose radiation over surgery. Sometimes radiation is also used after surgery. This helps destroy any cancer cells remaining in the area.

In men with later stages of prostate cancer, radiation therapy administered to sites where there is cancer is used to help relieve pain.

There are 3 main types of radiation used to treat prostate cancer. It is not unusual to receive both.

External radiation

The radiation comes from a large machine outside your body. This is done in either a hospital or clinic. Typically men have treatments 5 days a week for several weeks. Computers can be used to target the radiation to the cancer cells. This decreases the damage to healthy tissue around your prostate.

Seed Implantation

Radiation comes from radioactive materials that are within small implants. These implants are called seeds. Dozens of the seeds are put inside needles. These needles are then inserted into your prostate. The needles are removed but the seeds stay behind. The seeds give off radiation for months and kill the cancer cells.

Isotope therapy

Isotope therapy is given as an injection of radium. Radium is a radioactive isotope which is similar to calcium. Due to these similarities, radium can target bones. Radium is used to treat prostate cancer that has spread to the bone.  In clinical trials, it is used after the patient’s cancer has worsened on hormone therapy. Isotope therapy can help reduce pain as well. It has minimal side effects.

What to Expect

Side effects from radiation vary. The type of side effects seen  depends on the type of radiation, the site that it is administered to  and dose. You can expect to be very tired. You may also have diarrhea or frequent, uncomfortable urination. The skin in your treated area may become red, tender and dry. You may lose your hair there permanently.

Some men experience incontinence (lack of bladder control). This is usually a temporary side effect.

Both types of radiation can cause impotence. There are medications to help you cope with this side effect.

Here are some questions to ask about radiation:

  • Which type of radiation therapy is right for me?
  • Why is it the best?
  • When will treatment start?
  • How long will the radiation process take?
  • How often will I need to have treatments?
  • Will I need to stay in the hospital?
  • What can I do to take care of myself before, during, and after treatment?
  • How will I feel during treatment? Will I be able to drive myself to and from treatment?
  • How will we know the treatment is working?
  • How will I feel after the radiation therapy? Are there any lasting effects?
  • What is the chance that the cancer will come back in my prostate?
  • How often will I need checkups?

Back to “Understanding Prostate Cancer: An Introduction”

Return to list of treatment options.