External beam radiation therapy uses radiation produced by a machine called a linear accelerator. Short bursts of x-rays are fired from the machine at your cancer. The x-rays come out in square shapes; the radiation oncologist designs special blocks or special columnators within the machine to shape the radiation beam so that it treats the cancer and as little normal tissue as possible.
There are several newer techniques that may be used in treating your prostate cancer, including conformal treatment planning and
intensity modulated therapy (IMRT)
. These techniques allow a more precise delivery of radiation to the tumor area and may be used alone or in combination with surgery, hormonal therapy, or brachytherapy (implantation).
The side effects of radiation result from injury to the normal tissues. There are many new ways that a radiation oncologist can customize your treatment to try to kill as much cancer while sparing as much normal tissue as possible.
The radiation oncologist will determine how many treatments you will receive. Treatment generally only takes a few minutes, and the total treatment time can range from 5-8 weeks depending on the total dose required.
Radiation therapy can be given to treat cancer at its initial site or once it has spread. In some cases, once cancer has spread, radiation is no longer curative. However, the treatments can help resolve problems that the cancer may be causing, including pain and weakness.
Can you continue to receive radiation to an area that has already undergone radiation treatment? While it’s true that each tissue in the body can only safely tolerate a certain dose of radiation, radiation therapy is very focused. Therefore, it is possible to receive additional treatments to an already treated area. Your radiation oncologist is the best source of information as to what dose you can safely receive.
Internal Radiation Therapy
Internal radiation therapy, also called
places the radiation source as close as possible to the cancer cells. To treat prostate cancer, a capsule containing radioactive materials is placed directly into the prostate.
Some implants are left in place permanently, while others are left in place for only 1-3 days. Depending on which type of implant you receive, you may stay in the hospital while the implants are in place. Sometimes implant/internal radiation is combined with external beam radiation therapy.
Brachytherapy requires a short hospital stay and, because of the radioactivity emitted by the capsule, may require some modifications in lifestyle (such as not holding small children on the lap) for a period of time after the procedure.
Research continues to show that brachytherapy is equivalent to external beam radiation therapy or
in the treatment and cure of prostate cancer. However, the practice of brachytherapy, like surgery, is dependent on who is doing the procedure. Some doctors who perform brachytherapy procedures participate in quality control programs that monitor their practices and help improve their results.
When to Contact Your Doctor
Call your doctor if:
You develop side effects from the treatment, especially difficulty urinating, blood in the urine, bleeding from the rectum,
, or irritation of the rectal area
You develop new or unusual symptoms
Your skin is red, blistered, or swollen
Detailed guide: prostate cancer.
American Cancer Society
website. Available at:
Accessed October 9, 2008.
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a