Radiation Therapy For Prostate Cancer
Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill cancer cells. Depending on the stage of the prostate cancer and other factors, radiation therapy might be used:
- As the first treatment for cancer that is still just in the prostate gland and is low grade. Cure rates for men with these types of cancers are about the same as those for men treated with radical prostatectomy.
- As part of the first treatment for cancers that have grown outside the prostate gland and into nearby tissues.
- If the cancer is not removed completely or comes back in the area of the prostate after surgery.
- If the cancer is advanced, to help keep the cancer under control for as long as possible and to help prevent or relieve symptoms.
What Types Of Hormone Therapy Are Used For Prostate Cancer
- reducing androgen production by the testicles
- blocking the action of androgens throughout the body
- block androgen production throughout the body
Treatments that reduce androgen production by the testicles are the most commonly used hormone therapies for prostate cancer and the first type of hormone therapy that most men with prostate cancer receive. This form of hormone therapy includes:
Treatments that block the action of androgens in the body are typically used when ADT stops working. Such treatments include:
Treatments that block the production of androgens throughout the body include:
Video: What Is Radiation Therapy
Watch this short video to learn more about radiation therapy.
A/Prof Ian Vela, Urologic Oncologist, Princess Alexandra Hospital, Queensland University of Technology, and Urocology, QLD A/Prof Arun Azad, Medical Oncologist, Urological Cancers, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC A/Prof Nicholas Brook, Consultant Urological Surgeon, Royal Adelaide Hospital and A/Prof Surgery, The University of Adelaide, SA Peter Greaves, Consumer Graham Henry, Consumer Clin Prof Nat Lenzo, Nuclear Physician and Specialist in Internal Medicine, Group Clinical Director, GenesisCare Theranostics, and Notre Dame University Australia, WA Henry McGregor, Mens Health Physiotherapist, Adelaide Mens Health Physio, SA Jessica Medd, Senior Clinical Psychologist, Department of Urology, Concord Repatriation General Hospital, NSW Dr Tom Shakespeare, Director, Radiation Oncology, Coffs Harbour, Port Macquarie and Lismore Public Hospitals, NSW A/Prof David Smith, Senior Research Fellow, Daffodil Centre, Cancer Council NSW Allison Turner, Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse , Canberra Region Cancer Centre, Canberra Hospital, ACT Maria Veale, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council QLD Michael Walkden, Consumer Prof Scott Williams, Radiation Oncology Lead, Urology Tumour Stream, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, and Professor of Oncology, Sir Peter MacCallum Department of Oncology, The University of Melbourne, VIC.
View the Cancer Council NSW editorial policy.
Online Support Groups For Prostate Cancer
- Us TOO. This organization has more than 200 support groups in the United States and abroad.
- Prostate Cancer Research Institute. This website allows you to search for support groups by state.
- Cancer Care. This site offers 15-week online support groups for people diagnosed with prostate cancer. Co-sponsored by the National Alliance of State Prostate Cancer Coalitions.
- Male Care. This organization offers online support groups for people with prostate cancer and their partners or caregivers.
- Imerman Angels. This support community offers one-on-one support with a mentor.
When Is Radiation Therapy Given
Radiation therapy may be used:
- for localised or locally advanced prostate cancer it has similar rates of success to surgery in controlling prostate cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes
- if you are not well enough for surgery or are older
- after a prostatectomy for locally advanced disease, if there are signs of cancer left behind or the cancer has returned where the prostate used to be
- for prostate cancer that has spread to other parts of the body.
There are two main ways of delivering radiation therapy: from outside the body or inside the body . You may have one of these or a combination of both.
In intermediate and high-risk prostate cancer, radiation therapy is often combined with androgen deprivation therapy .
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Why It Is Done
Radiation therapy is used for:
- Cancer that has not spread in generally healthy men.
- Cancer that has spread to the bones, and is causing pain or other symptoms.
- Cancer that has come back in the prostate after surgery.
- Cancer cells that may remain after surgery, especially if all the cancer cannot be removed.
What Is Prostate Seed Implantation
Prostate seed implantation is a type of radiation therapy that involves placing radioactive seeds into the prostate. PSI delivers a high dose of radiation to the prostate gland and sometimes the seminal vesicles, which lie on either side of the prostate gland.
Your doctors have decided that you are a candidate for PSI. Depending on the stage of your cancer, you may be treated with:
- Seed implant alone
- Seed implant with hormone ablation
- Seed implant and external beam radiation therapy with or without hormone ablation
The type of radioactive sources used in PSI come in the form of metallic seeds, about the size of a grain of rice. The number of seeds needed to treat your cancer is determined by the size of your prostate gland and the dose of radiation being used. Typically, between 70 and 150 seeds are placed at one time. The seeds give off their radiation slowly over several months. Within one year, the radioactivity can be considered gone however, the metallic seeds will remain in your prostate gland.
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Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
This technique uses advanced image guided techniques to deliver large doses of radiation to a precise area, such as the prostate. Because there are large doses of radiation in each dose, the entire course of treatment is given over just a few days.
SBRT is often known by the names of the machines that deliver the radiation, such as Gamma Knife, X-Knife, CyberKnife, and Clinac.
The main advantage of SBRT over IMRT is that the treatment takes less time . The side effects, though, are not better. In fact, some research has shown that some side effects might actually be worse with SBRT than with IMRT.
What Is Radiation Therapy
Radiation is the strategic use of ionizing radiation or photons to kill cancer cells. It works by damaging the cancer cells DNA .The targeted cells die without growing or replicating themselves. Radiation therapy, like surgery, is very effective at killing localized or locally advanced prostate cancer and has the same cure rate as surgery.
Just as surgical skill can play an important role in determining outcomes from prostatectomy, the technical skill of your radiation oncologist can play an important role in radiation outcomes. When choosing a radiation oncologist, look for a physicians who has broad experience with an assortment of approaches and can objectively help you decide on the best course of treatment.
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Treatment By Stage Of Prostate Cancer
Different treatments may be recommended for each stage of prostate cancer. Your doctor will work with you to develop a specific treatment plan based on the cancers stage and other factors. Detailed descriptions of each type of treatment are provided earlier on this same page. Clinical trials may also be a treatment option for each stage.
Early-stage prostate cancer
Early-stage prostate cancer usually grows very slowly and may take years to cause any symptoms or other health problems, if it ever does at all. As a result, active surveillance or watchful waiting may be recommended. Radiation therapy or surgery may also be suggested, as well as treatment in clinical trials. For those with a higher Gleason score, the cancer may be faster growing, so radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy are often recommended. Your doctor will consider your age and general health before recommending a treatment plan.
ASCO, the American Urological Association, American Society of Radiation Oncology, and the Society of Urologic Oncology recommend that patients with high-risk early-stage prostate cancer that has not spread to other areas of the body should receive radical prostatectomy or radiation therapy with hormonal therapy as standard treatment options.
Locally advanced prostate cancer
Watchful waiting may be considered for older adults who are not expected to live for a long time and whose cancer is not causing symptoms or for those who have another, more serious illness.
Radiation Therapy In Localized Disease:
For men that need treatment for localized prostate cancer, external radiation therapy and brachytherapy can be alternatives to surgery. Modern radiation therapy is as effective as surgery when used to cure prostate cancer.
At this stage of disease, radiation therapy is used to attempt to cure the disease. However, it is also sometimes used if surgery didnt completely remove the cancer, or it came back in the area of the prostate after surgery.
These treatment options may require multiple visits. As always, it is important to consider costs and potential side effects. Scroll down to learn more about the different types of external radiation therapy or brachytherapy.
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Do We Know Which Treatment Is Best For Prostate Cancer Brachytherapy Or External Beam Radiation
Its not a question of which type of radiation therapy is best in general, but rather which therapy is best for the patients specific disease and quality-of-life concerns. We want to use the most tailored, pinpointed radiation to treat the prostate tumor effectively while minimizing side effects. This can depend on the tumors size and stage as well as other patient characteristics and even a patients individual preferences.
What Side Effects Will I Have
During your treatment, radiation must pass through your skin. You may notice some skin changes in the area exposed to radiation.
Your skin may become red, swollen, warm, and sensitive, as if you have a sunburn. It may peel or become moist and tender. Depending on the dose of radiation you receive, you may notice hair loss or less sweat within the treated area.
These skin reactions are common and temporary. Theyâll fade gradually within 4 to 6 weeks after you finish your treatment. If you notice any skin changes outside the treated area, tell your doctor or nurse.
Long-term side effects, which can last up to a year or longer after treatment, may include:
- A slight darkening of the skin
- Enlarged pores
- Skins feels more or less sensitive
- A thickening of tissue or skin
Other possible side effects of external beam radiation therapy are:
Tiredness. Your fatigue might not lift until a few weeks or months after you finish getting radiation therapy.
Lymphedema. If radiation therapy damages the lymph nodes around your prostate gland, the fluid can build up in your legs or genital area. That can bring on swelling and pain. Physical therapy can usually treat lymphedema, but it might not go away completely.
Urinary problems. Radiation can irritate your bladder, and that could lead to a condition called radiation cystitis. You might:
- Have to pee more often
- Feel like it burns when you pee
- Notice blood in your urine
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What Are The Side Effects Of External Beam Radiotherapy
Like all treatments for prostate cancer, radiotherapy can cause side effects. These will affect each man differently, and you might not get all the possible side effects. Sometimes bowel, urinary and sexual problems after radiotherapy treatment are called pelvic radiation disease.
Side effects happen when the healthy tissue near the prostate is damaged by radiotherapy. Most healthy cells recover so side effects may only last a few weeks or months. But some side effects can start months or years after treatment. These can sometimes become long-term problems. Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor, nurse or radiographer about the side effects. Knowing what to expect can help you deal with them.
If you have hormone therapy as well as radiotherapy, you may also get side effects from the hormone therapy. Read more about the side effects of hormone therapy and how you can manage them.
If youre having radiotherapy as a second treatment, and you still have side effects from your first treatment, then radiotherapy can make those side effects worse or last longer. It may also cause other side effects. The most common side effects of radiotherapy are described here.
Short-term side effects of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy can irritate the lining of the bladder and the urethra, which is the tube men urinate and ejaculate through. This can cause urinary problems, such as:
Tiredness and fatigue
Problems with ejaculation
Skin irritation and hair loss
Sexual And Reproductive Health
You can be sexually active during your radiation therapy, unless your radiation oncologist gives you other instructions. You wont be radioactive or pass radiation to anyone else.
If youre sexually active with someone whos able to get pregnant, its important to use birth control during and for 1 year after your radiation therapy. During your radiation therapy, your sperm may be damaged by the radiation. If you conceive a baby with this sperm, the baby might have birth defects. Using birth control helps prevent this.
For more information about your sexual health during cancer treatment, read Sex and Your Cancer Treatment. The American Cancer Society also has resources about sexual health issues during cancer treatment. The one for men is called Sex and the Adult Male with Cancer. You can search for it at www.cancer.org or call for a copy.
Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program
MSKs Male Sexual and Reproductive Medicine Program helps people address the impact of their disease and treatment on sexual health. You can meet with a specialist before, during, or after your treatment. We can give you a referral, or you can call for an appointment.
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What Is A Radiation Oncologist
If a patient is undergoing radiation, the cancer treatment plan may be managed by a radiation oncologist who carefully monitors the persons overall health and well-being through the process.
With advanced cancer, a patient may also be referred to a medical oncologist. This specialized doctor uses medicines such as chemotherapy and hormone therapy to treat cancers. Its common for several medical specialists to work together on a treatment plantheyre known as a cancer care team.
How Does Hormone Therapy Work Against Prostate Cancer
Early in their development, prostate cancers need androgens to grow. Hormone therapies, which are treatments that decrease androgen levels or block androgen action, can inhibit the growth of such prostate cancers, which are therefore called castration sensitive, androgen dependent, or androgen sensitive.
Most prostate cancers eventually stop responding to hormone therapy and become castration resistant. That is, they continue to grow even when androgen levels in the body are extremely low or undetectable. In the past, these tumors were also called hormone resistant, androgen independent, or hormone refractory however, these terms are rarely used now because the tumors are not truly independent of androgens for their growth. In fact, some newer hormone therapies have become available that can be used to treat tumors that have become castration resistant.
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Low Dose Rate Brachytherapy Implants
The most common form of brachytherapy for prostate cancer, LDR involves surgically placing small radioactive pellets, about the size of a grain of rice, within the prostate. Once put in place, they remain there for life, but the radiation weakens over weeks or months, until it almost completely goes away.
Who Is On My Radiation Therapy Team
A highly trained medical team will work together to provide you with the best possible care. This team may include the following health care professionals:
Radiation oncologist. This type of doctor specializes in giving radiation therapy to treat cancer. A radiation oncologist oversees radiation therapy treatments. They work closely with other team members to develop the treatment plan.
Radiation oncology nurse. This nurse specializes in caring for people receiving radiation therapy. A radiation oncology nurse plays many roles, including:
Answering questions about treatments
Monitoring your health during treatment
Helping you manage side effects of treatment
Medical radiation physicist. This professional helps design treatment plans. They are experts at using radiation equipment.
Dosimetrist. The dosimetrist helps your radiation oncologist calculate the right dose of radiation.
Radiation therapist or radiation therapy technologist. This professional operates the treatment machines and gives people their scheduled treatments.
Other health care professionals. Additional team members may help care for physical, emotional, and social needs during radiation therapy. These professionals include:
Learn more about the oncology team.
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Are You A Candidate
Whether your doctor recommends radiation depends on various factors, including your age, health, and personal preferences. The type of radiation is often dictated by your risk group and whether the cancer is localized or has spread.
Sometimes hormone therapy is given before radiation or along with it. ADT reduces levels of male hormones, called androgens, which can slow or even stop the cancers growth. Studies have found this one-two punch leads to higher survival rates than radiation alone among men with localized prostate cancer and a Gleason score of 7 or higher.
If you opt for surgery, your doctor may suggest radiation afterward, called adjuvant radiation therapy. “You have surgery to remove cancer, and then radiation to eliminate any remaining tumor deposits to keep cancer from returning,” says Dr. Anthony DAmico, a radiation oncologist with Harvards Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Cancer that has grown beyond the prostate also may require post-surgery radiation.
After youve had radiation, youll have a prostate-specific antigen test every three to six months for five years and then annually after that to check for recurrence of the cancer. “If your PSA ever rises above 2, then imaging tests are done, and if needed, additional radiation or other appropriate treatment is given,” says Dr. DAmico.