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How Many Weeks Of Radiation For Prostate Cancer

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What Is The Experience Like For A Patient

Radiation therapy for prostate cancer: What to expect

The experience with our department begins with a consultation.

If you agree to receive radiation, you will have a noncontrast computed tomography scan to map your prostate and internal anatomy.

Next, we design a radiation treatment plan.

You’ll come in for daily radiotherapy sessions, each lasting about 15 minutes. You’ll check in, change into disposable shorts and wait in a men-only waiting area.

Yale Medicine radiation therapists then escort you to the treatment room, where you’ll lie down in a custom body mold.

When your positioning is confirmed and adjusted, based on a CT scan or an implanted radio-frequency tracking device, treatment begins.

Men should be in and out of our department like clockwork, with minimal disruption to their day, says Dr. Yu. Radiation therapy may continue for up to nine weeks.

Once the course is complete, recovery typically requires a few months. Typically, at their one-month follow-up visit, patients report they are on the mend, says Dr. Yu.

By four months, they are back to normal.

What Happens On Treatment Days

External radiation therapy requires regular sessions during a period of about five to eight weeks. For each treatment, the radiation therapist will help you onto the treatment table and into the correct position. Once the therapist is sure you are positioned well, they will leave the room and start the radiation treatment.

You will be under constant observation during the treatment. Cameras and an intercom are in the treatment room, so the therapist can always see and hear you. Be sure to remain still and relaxed during treatment. Let the therapist know if you have any problems or discomfort.

The therapist will be in and out of the room to reposition the machine and change your position. The treatment machine will not touch you, and you will feel nothing during the treatment. Once the treatment is complete, the therapist will help you off the treatment table.

The radiation therapist will take a port film, also known as an X-ray, on the first day of treatment and about every week thereafter. Port films verify that you are being positioned accurately during your treatments.

Port films do not provide diagnostic information, so radiation therapists cannot learn about your progress from these films. However, port films are important to help the therapists make sure the radiation is delivered to the precise area that needs treatment.

Advantages And Disadvantages Of External Beam Radiotherapy For Early Prostate Cancer

You may want to think about the advantages and disadvantages of external beam radiotherapy when deciding about treatment.

Radiotherapy and radical prostatectomy are both treatments that may cure early prostate cancer. They are equally effective in treating the cancer.

To choose the treatment that is best for you, it can help to look at the different advantages and disadvantages of each one. You can then make your decision in partnership with your doctor.

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Questions To Ask The Health Care Team

  • Who is creating my radiation therapy treatment plan? How often will the plan be reviewed?

  • Which health care professionals will I see at every treatment session?

  • Can you describe what my first session, or simulation, will be like?

  • Will I need any tests or scans before treatment begins?

  • Will my skin be marked as part of treatment planning?

  • Who can I talk with if I’m feeling anxious or upset about having this treatment?

  • How long will each treatment session take? How often will I have radiation therapy?

  • Can I bring someone with me to each session?

  • Are there special services for patients receiving radiation therapy, such as certain parking spaces or parking rates?

  • Who should I talk with about any side effects I experience?

  • Which lotions do you recommend for skin-related side effects? When should I apply it?

  • How else can I take care of myself during the treatment period?

  • Will special precautions be needed to protect my family and others from radiation exposure during my treatment period?

  • What will my follow-up care schedule be?

What Happens Before Radiation Therapy Treatment

RACGP

Each treatment plan is created to meet a patient’s individual needs, but there are some general steps. You can expect these steps before beginning treatment:

Meeting with your radiation oncologist. The doctor will review your medical records, perform a physical exam, and recommend tests. You will also learn about the potential risks and benefits of radiation therapy. This is a great time to ask any questions or share concerns you may have.

Giving permission for radiation therapy. If you choose to receive radiation therapy, your health care team will ask you to sign an “informed consent” form. Signing the document means:

  • Your team gave you information about your treatment options.

  • You choose to have radiation therapy.

  • You give permission for the health care professionals to deliver the treatment.

  • You understand the treatment is not guaranteed to give the intended results.

Simulating and planning treatment. Your first radiation therapy session is a simulation. This means it is a practice run without giving radiation therapy. Your team will use imaging scans to identify the tumor location. These may include:

  • An x-ray

Depending on the area being treated, you may receive a small mark on your skin. This will help your team aim the radiation beam at the tumor.

You may also be fitted for an immobilization device. This could include using:

  • Tape

  • Plaster casts

These items help you stay in the same position throughout treatment.

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Possible Risks And Side Effects Of Brachytherapy

Radiation precautions: If you get permanent brachytherapy, the seeds will give off small amounts of radiation for several weeks or months. Even though the radiation doesnt travel far, your doctor may advise you to stay away from pregnant women and small children during this time. If you plan on traveling, you might want to get a doctors note regarding your treatment, as low levels of radiation can sometimes be picked up by detection systems at airports.

There’s also a small risk that some of the seeds might move . You may be asked to strain your urine for the first week or so to catch any seeds that might come out. You may be asked to take other precautions as well, such as wearing a condom during sex. Be sure to follow any instructions your doctor gives you. There have also been reports of the seeds moving through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the lungs. As far as doctors can tell, this is uncommon and doesnt seem to cause any ill effects.

These precautions arent needed after HDR brachytherapy, because the radiation doesnt stay in the body after treatment.

Bowel problems: Brachytherapy can sometimes irritate the rectum and cause a condition called radiation proctitis. Bowel problems such as rectal pain, burning, and/or diarrhea can occur, but serious long-term problems are uncommon.

To learn more, see the Radiation Therapy section of our website.

Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy Or Stereotactic Ablative Radiation Therapy

Guided by advanced imaging techniques, SBRT delivers large doses of radiation over a short period of time to a precise area. SBRT is commonly referred to by the names of the machines used to deliver the radiation. SBRT can offer some patients with localized prostate cancer the convenience of fewer treatments while maintaining treatment effectiveness and safety. SBRT may also be used to treat metastases for some patients to reduce tumor mass and potentially enhance survival.

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Who Should Consider External Beam Radiation Therapy

In most cases, external beam radiation therapy is used for men with localized prostate cancer . The intent of EBRT in this case is to kill the tumor while sparing as much healthy tissue as possible. Sometimes it is used in more advanced cases. For example, it can be used along with hormone therapy, or used to relieve pain from bone metastases.

Staging Of Prostate Cancer

What is Radiation Treatment for Prostate Cancer?

Doctors will use the results of your prostate examination, biopsy and scans to identify the “stage” of your prostate cancer .

The stage of the cancer will determine which types of treatments will be necessary.

If prostate cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, the chances of survival are generally good.

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Why People With Cancer Receive Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy is used to treat cancer and ease cancer symptoms.

When used to treat cancer, radiation therapy can cure cancer, prevent it from returning, or stop or slow its growth.

When treatments are used to ease symptoms, they are known as palliative treatments. External beam radiation may shrink tumors to treat pain and other problems caused by the tumor, such as trouble breathing or loss of bowel and bladder control. Pain from cancer that has spread to the bone can be treated with systemic radiation therapy drugs called radiopharmaceuticals.

What Happens During The Procedure

The entire procedure takes approximately 90 minutes. Most patients go home the same day.

A radiation oncologist and urologist perform the procedure. Both physicians are actively involved in all aspects of the implantation, from the planning to the post-operative care. During the procedure, the urologist provides ultrasound guidance and the radiation oncologist places the radioactive seeds.

The procedure is performed as follows:

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How Fertility Might Be Affected

For women: Talk to your cancer care team about how radiation might affect your fertility . Its best to do this before starting treatment so you are aware of possible risks to your fertility.

Depending on the radiation dose, women getting radiation therapy in the pelvic area sometimes stop having menstrual periods and have other symptoms of menopause. Report these symptoms to your cancer care and ask them how to relieve these side effects.Sometimes menstrual periods will return when radiation therapy is over, but sometimes they do not.

See Fertility and Women With Cancer to learn more.

For men: Radiation therapy to an area that includes the testicles can reduce both the number of sperm and their ability to function. If you want to father a child in the future and are concerned about reduced fertility, talk to your cancer care team before starting treatment. One option may be to bank your sperm ahead of time.

See Fertility and Men With Cancer to learn more.

Diarrhea Flatulence Or Painful Defecation

hypofractionated radiation therapy / Photo credits: MedScape

These symptoms usually occur after the second or third week of treatment. Symptoms will resolve after the treatment ends. During radiation, dietary modification usually helps reduce the frequency and severity of diarrhea. Try to avoid or reduce fried foods, greasy foods and highly spiced foods. Reduce foods with insoluble fiber, such as lettuce and cauliflower, and increase low-fiber and soluable-fiber foods, such as bananas, mashed potatoes, applesauce, white rice, canned or cooked fruits and vegetables.

Maintain your intake of lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken and fish, and increase your fluid intake to avoid dehydration. Using moist toilet paper, baby wipes or sitz baths may help relieve rectal irritation. Your doctor may recommend anti-diarrheal medications. Contact your doctor if you see blood in your stool, if the diarrhea worsens or if you become light-headed or dizzy.

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Faq: Radiation Therapy For Prostate Cancer

Why would I choose radiation therapy?

Radiation therapy, including external beam radiation therapy and brachytherapy, is an alternative form of treatment for prostate cancer. EBRT may be used after other treatments, such as surgery, to manage cancer that has recurred or is at high risk of recurrence. Radiation therapy has an excellent record of success, providing long-term disease control and survival rates equivalent to other treatments, including surgery.

How should I expect to feel during radiation therapy?

Undergoing external beam radiation therapy is similar to having a routine X-ray. Radiation cannot be seen, smelled or felt. Generally, side effects don’t appear until the second or third week of treatment. Because radiation therapy is a local treatment, only the areas of the body where it is directed will experience side effects. Most patients will experience some or all of the following:

  • Increase in the frequency of urination
  • Urinary urgency
  • Softer and smaller volume bowel movements
  • Increased frequency of bowel movements
  • Worsening of hemorrhoids or rectal irritation with occasional scant blood and fatigue

Many questions may arise during radiation therapy treatment. Your doctors will be available to answer questions throughout your treatment.

How should I expect to feel after radiation therapy?

Bowel And Bladder Problems

You may have bowel or bladder changes because of radiotherapy. For example, blood vessels in your bowel and bladder can become more fragile. This may cause blood in your urine or from the back passage . If you notice any bleeding, always tell your doctor so they can check it out.

Let them know about any bowel or bladder symptoms you have. They can give you advice and may do some tests. You may also find it helpful to contact the Bladder and Bowel Community for support.

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What Is Localized Prostate Cancer

Prostate cancer is the abnormal growth of cells in the prostate gland. Localized prostate cancer has not spread outside the gland. Early prostate cancer usually doesn’t cause symptoms.

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men. Most men who get it are older than 65. If your father, brother, or son has had prostate cancer, your risk is higher than average.

Men of African descent have the highest rates of both prostate cancer and deaths from it.

About 21,000 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Canada every year.footnote 1 In the United States, about 12 out of 100 men in the U.S. will be diagnosed with prostate cancer sometime in their lifetime.footnote 2 But most men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer don’t die from prostate cancer.

Unlike many other cancers, prostate cancer is usually slow-growing. When prostate cancer is found earlybefore it has spread outside the glandit may be cured with radiation or surgery.

Prostate cancer that has grown beyond the prostate is called advanced prostate cancer. Treatment choices are different for that stage of cancer.

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What to Expect after Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer

However, if youre okay with waiting for the PSA nadir, and if you dont mind getting treatment over the course of a few weeks instead of in one operation, then radiation may be ideal for you.

What are my options?

Conventional external-beam radiation therapy is given in little doses, a few minutes a day, five days a week, for seven or eight weeks. These small doses minimize the injury risk for the healthy tissue near the tumor. Scientists measure radiation in units called Gy . Most men get a minimum total dose of 75.6 Gy, but could get as much as 81 Gy this works out to 2 Gy or less per day.

The treatment itself is painless just like getting an x-ray at the dentists office. But one big challenge with getting repeated treatments is making sure youre always in the exact same position, so the radiation can hit the target the way its supposed to. Thus, you will be custom-fitted with your own pelvic immobilization device, which will not only keep you from fidgeting, but will make sure youre not slightly higher and to the right on the table one day, and slightly lower and to the left the next.

When you get fitted for your device, you will have a CT scan, so doctors can get a 3D look at your prostate. Then, when you get the radiation, you wont just get it from one side, but from multiple directions, and each beam of radiation will be individually shaped to target the cancer and a 5- to 10-millimeter margin of healthy tissue around the prostate.

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How Does Brachytherapy Work

Brachytherapy involves implanting small, permanent radioactive seeds or temporary needles into the cancerous prostate.

After you are identified as a good candidate for brachytherapy, an ultrasound is used to guide the placement of needles into the prostate. Depending on whether you and your doctor have chosen permanent/low-dose brachytherapy or temporary/high-dose brachytherapy, these needles are then used to either put in permanent seeds or temporary radiation sources.

Placement of seeds is a minimally invasive procedure and does not require incisions. Men undergoing the procedure can return to full activity in less than a week. This is done as an outpatient procedure before you begin treatment.

Other Key Findings In The Study

Patients who had lower PSA scores:

  • Experienced an eight-year disease-free survival rate of 75 percent, compared with only 18 percent for those with the highest PSA scores.
  • Had a 97 percent distant metastasis-free survival rate, compared with 73 percent for those with the highest PSA scores.

However, the study also indicated that, when a PSA is falling, there is no specific number that predicts future survivability.

While there is no magic number for the PSA that guarantees that prostate cancer has been cured in an individual patient, in general, the lower the PSA number, the better chances that the cancer will not return or spread, said Michael E. Ray, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the study and a radiation oncologist at the University of Michigan Medical Center.

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How Does Radiotherapy Treat Advanced Prostate Cancer

Radiotherapy can be used in different ways to treat advanced prostate cancer:

  • As part of your first treatment for advanced prostate cancer If youre offered radiotherapy as part of your first treatment, youll have a type called external beam radiotherapy.
  • To improve symptoms in areas where the cancer has spread You may have external beam radiotherapy to the part of the body where the cancer is causing problems.
  • To help some men with bone pain live longer If your cancer is causing bone pain, you may be offered a type of internal radiotherapy called radium-223 to help you live longer and to treat the bone pain.

A clinical oncologist or radiographer will plan your radiotherapy with you. They will explain which type of radiotherapy you will have, how long the treatment could take and the possible side effects. This could depend on where your cancer has spread to, any symptoms youre having, and your general health and fitness.

A team of treatment radiographers will give you the treatment. They’ll also give you support and information during your treatment.

The information on this page is for men with advanced prostate cancer. If your cancer hasn’t spread to other parts of the body, read our information on external beam radiotherapy for localised or locally advanced prostate cancer instead.

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