Home > Patients & Visitors > Health Library > Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer
Radiation therapy uses high doses of
radiation, such as X-rays, to destroy cancer cells. The radiation damages the
genetic material of the cells so that they can't grow. Although radiation
damages normal cells as well as cancer cells, the normal cells can repair
themselves and function, while the cancer cells cannot.
therapy may be used alone or combined with hormonal treatment to treat
prostate cancer. It is most effective in treating
cancers that have not spread outside the prostate. But it also may be used if
the cancer has spread to nearby tissue. Radiation is sometimes used after
surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells and to relieve pain from
Radiation is delivered in one of two ways.
Sometimes treatment combines brachytherapy with low-dose
external radiation. In other cases, treatment combines surgery with external
radiation or hormone therapy may be used along with brachytherapy.
Before radiation therapy is scheduled, your doctor
probably will order a
bone scan and
CT scan to find out whether the cancer has spread to
other parts of your body. If it has, your doctor may offer you the option of a
clinical trial for treatment.
Side effects may last only as long as
the treatment, or they may continue and become chronic. Some side effects
occur after treatment, such as erection problems. For some men, this problem
gets gradually worse over the course of several years after treatment. The
long-term effects of radiation therapy on the main body systems are not yet
known. Side effects include:footnote 1
Radiation therapy is used for:
Right now there isn't strong evidence to show what treatment helps men who have localized prostate cancer live longer. High quality studies that compare radiation with surgery for men with localized prostate cancer haven't yet been completed. But a study is currently being done to compare the treatmentsfootnote 2
treating advanced prostate cancer that has grown beyond the prostate but not
into lymph nodes or bones, external-beam radiation combined with hormone drugs can
work better than surgery. This treatment often results in controlling cancer
growth and in many years of disease-free survival.footnote 1
Radiation therapy also works well to treat pain when prostate cancer has spread to the bone.footnote 3
Radiation treatment for prostate cancer may increase a man's risk for having another cancer later in life, such as bladder or rectal cancer.
Some radiation side effects, like fatigue, are short-term problems that go away with time. But a radiation side effect can become a long-term problem. Common side effects from radiation treatment include:
For men with high-risk prostate cancer, radiation treatment is given along with hormone therapy. Hormone therapy has side effects, such as the loss of bone density and muscle mass. It can also increase the risk for bone fractures, diabetes, and heart disease.
The goal of radiation therapy is to deliver the highest dose possible to the prostate while protecting the rest of the nearby organs (such as the bladder and rectum) from unnecessary radiation. Newer ways of giving radiation, such as 3D-CRT, IMRT, and proton beam therapy, are more accurate. This has helped to reduce problems caused by radiation.
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National Cancer Institute (2012). Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ)—Health Professional Version. Available online: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/pdq/treatment/prostate/HealthProfessional.
Lane JA, et al. (2014). Active monitoring, radical prostatectomy, or radiotherapy for localised prostate cancer: Study design and diagnostic and baseline results of the ProtecT randomised phase 3 trial. Lancet Oncology, (10): 1109–1118. DOI: 10.1016/S1470-2045(14)70361-4. Accessed August 14, 2015.
D'Amico AV, et al. (2012). Radiation therapy for prostate cancer. In AJ Wein et al., eds., Campbell-Walsh Urology, 10th ed., vol. 3, pp. 2850–2872. Philadelphia: Saunders.
ByHealthwise StaffPrimary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal MedicineSpecialist Medical ReviewerChristopher G. Wood, MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
Current as ofNovember 20, 2015
Current as of:
November 20, 2015
E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine & Christopher G. Wood, MD, FACS - Urology, Oncology
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