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Prostate Cancer

Radiation Treatment of Prostate Cancer

Radiation treatment involves the attempt to kill cancer cells and the surrounding affected tissue with radioactive materials. Radiation is also very effective for men with localized disease, but it can be the preferred method of treatment for men who are too ill or elderly for surgery, or who have an advanced stage of the disease.

The advantages of radiation therapy include the fact that, depending on the form of treatment, it is either non-invasive or much less invasive than surgery. Radiation therapy can also be the best method of treatment if the cancer has spread beyond the prostate, or if the patient rules out removal of the prostate.

Dosage is an important factor, and it's difficult to determine how much radiation each patient should receive. Too low a dosage won't kill the cancer, but too high a dosage can increase the uncomfortable side effects.

Types of Radiation Therapy

External Beam Radiation Therapy (EBRP)

This is the most commonly used type of radiation. It is a non-invasive treatment wherein a very powerful X-ray beam is aimed to kill the tumor. The process only takes a few minutes per treatment, and there’s no pain or discomfort. A typical round of treatment takes five days a week for a period of about eight weeks.

Brachytherapy, or seed therapy

This process involves implanting radioactive material into the prostate, usually guided by ultrasound for accurate placement. With the patient under anesthesia, the physician places an ultrasound probe into the rectum in order to guide the placement of the radioactive seeds. These seeds, which are smaller than a grain of rice, work to destroy the tumor cells.

Radionuclide Therapy

Drugs known as radiopharmaceuticals or radionuclides are used to treat prostate cancer if it has spread to the bones. The drug is injected through an IV, and is absorbed into the bones. It is a single outpatient treatment that can be administered in the doctor’s office.

Side Effects of Radiation

The side effects of radiation therapy can vary depending on methods of treatment and other factors. Within a month or two of treatment completion, most symptoms disappear. Side effects can include some or all of the following:

Commonly asked questions about radiation:

  1. What are some of the side effects to radiation of the prostate?
  2. What are radioactive seeds, and how are they used in the treatment of prostate cancer?
  3. Why should I receive radiation for prostate cancer that has spread to my bone?

What are some of the side effects to radiation of the prostate?

Radiation to the prostate can result in loose bowel movements, frequency of urination, and, not uncommonly, impotence.  The first two side effects usually resolve in a few months after completion of radiation therapy. Other possible side-effects include bleeding from the bladder and rectal area, both of which generally resolve with time.

What are radioactive seeds, and how are they used in the treatment of prostate cancer?

Seeds are small pieces of radioactive material, about the size of a grain of rice, that are placed in the prostate to kill the cancer. Approximately 100 may be placed while the patient is asleep and the procedure may take 1 to 1½ hours. It is typically done as an outpatient procedure. These seeds are left in the prostate permanently.

Why should I receive radiation for prostate cancer that has spread to my bone?

Common complications from prostate cancer that has metastasized (spread) to the bone include pain and an increased likelihood of fracture. Radiation of bone lesions is often done to relieve or prevent the development of pain, fracture, or possible further progression of the metastatic cancer process. Side effects are uncommon and the treatments are well tolerated. Medications are currently available to reduce the pain and also reduce the likelihood of bone fractures.

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This article is a NetWellness exclusive.

Last Reviewed: Mar 10, 2006

Martin I Resnick, MD Martin I Resnick, MD
Formerly, Professor of Urology
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University