Radiation therapy is used as a treatment option for many forms of cancer including prostate cancer. It is the process of using high levels of radiation to kill cancer cells in the prostate as well as keeping them from growing and spreading. While levels of radiation are high, it is directed specifically at tumors in order to minimize or avoid injury to healthy tissue that surrounds the cancer.
Radiation therapy is an ideal option for cancer that is localized inside the prostate. It can also be used in conjunction with hormone therapy for cancer that has spread outside the capsule but remains in nearby tissue. Radiation therapy is also indicated after surgery when cancer has not been completely removed, or if it returns. This option can also be used in patients with advanced prostate cancer as a way to control the spread of cancer as long as possible, and to relieve symptoms. Radiation therapy can be administered externally ─ External Beam Therapy ─or internally ─ Brachytherapy.
External Beam Therapy is a painless procedure in which a strong beam of radiation is focused directly at tumors based on specifically calculated measurements and doses. This procedure is generally repeated for several days in a row over the course of many weeks. Although this treatment is designed to minimize exposure, it still has side effects. Radiation patients may experience bowel issues such as diarrhea, blood in the stool or leakage. They may also experience urinary frequency, burning, leakage or the inability to control urine, blood in the urine or urethral stricture. Other side effects may include erectile dysfunction, fatigue or fluid retention in the legs or genitals.
Brachytherapy is a minimally invasive procedure in which radioactive pellets or “seeds” are inserted into the prostate through the perineum (area between the scrotum and the anus). These seeds are placed around slow growing tumors and emit low doses of radiation for weeks to several months. However, because dozens of seeds are injected around tumors, they collectively discharge high levels of radiation toward the cancer growth. Brachytherapy shares some of the same side effects of External Beam Therapy including bowel, urinary and erectile issues. What is unique to this therapy is that seeds may migrate within the body, traveling through the bloodstream to other organs.