prostate radiation

Side effects of prostate radiation

“Side effects of prostate radiation” is an important topic, which many doctors and their patients have to discuss before proceeding to the procedure further on. In most cases, radiation treatment for prostate cancer has the same side effects as brachytherapy (or in other words internal radiation). But it’s important to keep in mind that every person will have different side effects from the same procedure and health in general.

What is prostate radiation?

Radiation for prostate cancer is a special treatment of the cancer cells with the help of high-energy rays or particles. Radiation has the power to make small breaks through our DNA cells. This breakage stop the growth and spread of cancer further. Depending on the stage of prostate cancer, radiation treatment can be used in the following situations:

  • To cure or shrink early-stage cancer.
  • To stop cancer from coming back (recurring) somewhere else.
  • To treat symptoms caused by advanced cancer.
  • To treat cancer that has returned (recurred).

Types of prostate radiation

The most common types of radiation for prostate cancer are external beam radiation (1) and brachytherapy (2).

1. This type of radiation uses beams of radiation, which are focused on the prostate gland from a machine outside the body. It’s very helpful in the early stage of prostate cancer or in cases when it is needed to relieve pain symptoms (ex. bone pain, if cancer has spread to a specific area). Such treatment is usually done 5 days a week for several weeks, depending on the condition of the patient. External beam radiation for treatment of prostate cancer has different categories of treatment, such as: 

  • Three-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3D-CRT);
  • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT);
  • Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT);
  • Proton beam radiation therapy.

2. Brachytherapy for prostate cancer also called seed radiation for prostate cancer uses very small balls or pellets, which are placed into the patient’s prostate. Seed radiation differs in the dosage rate of the radioactive material: permanent (low dosage) and temporary (high dosage).

What are the side effects of prostate radiation?

Even though both external beam radiation and brachytherapy use the same radiation as the cure from the cancer cells, they have some common side effects.

  • Bowel problems: Radiation proctitis is a very common inflammation of the rectum that occurs as a result of the radiation treatment of prostate cancer where damage to the rectum was acquired. Proctitis can lead to diarrhea, with the blood in the stool, and rectal leakage. Most of these problems go away over time, but in rare cases, normal bowel function does not return. In order to minimize bowel problems, doctors will advise what kind of diet to follow during radiation therapy to help limit bowel movement during treatment.
  • Urinary problems: Radiation cystitis is the side effect of inflammation and subsequent destruction of the normal work of the urinary bladder at the cellular level after the usage of radiation in the treatment. Patients will feel the need to urinate more often, have a burning sensation while the urinate process, and/or find blood in the urine itself. Urinary problems usually improve over time, but in some men, they never go away.
  • Erection problems (this includes impotence too): Patience after the treatment, with radiation or through surgery, has the same rate of impotence level. These problems do not occur right after radiation therapy but are slowly developing over time. The effect of radiation treatment is more visible if the patient is elderly, where impotence is already on the low level. 

Side effects, which can be provoked only by external beam radiation are tiredness, which can disappear after a few week’s or months when the treatment is already ended; and lymphedema – or in other words collection of the water in the body, this can be treated with the help of physical treatment. 

Prostate radiation vs. robotic prostatectomy

It is not possible to decide which treatment is better or more effective – radiation or robotic prostatectomy, due to the fact that everybody has different stages of prostate cancer and other health-related issues. Below are enumerated pros and cons for each type of treatment, but every patient needs to take into account what his doctor is telling and suggesting.  

Surgery Radiation
  1. During the surgery patient is asleep
  2. Time in the hospital can be between 2 or 4 days
  3. Up to 3 weeks urine will be collected in the catheter
  4. After surgery will be needed to take some tests to see if cancer has grown back or not 
  1. With external beam radiation – radiation is aimed directly at the cancer. Treatment is usually a few months.
  2. With internal radiation, the doctor injects inside radioactive material into the prostate.
  3. Sometimes it takes a year or so to see the results if cancellation is eliminated. 
  1. During the surgery the cancer is removed and doctor can make test to see if cancer will grow again or not
  2. It can be seen by a doctor if cancer is fully removed and hasn’t spread.
  1. Radiation is a better option for those who would like to minimise side effects from surgery such as leaking urine or erection problems. 
  2. Radiation is an option if men have health issues and surgery can be a big risk.
Risks and effects
  1. The cancer could come back or grow.
  2. Surgery often leads to long-lasting bladder control problems.
  3. Many men have erection problems after surgery.
  4. Risks of any surgery include bleeding, infection, blood clots, and problems from anesthesia.
  1. The cancer could come back or grow.
  2. It can cause bowel problems. Erection problems will be developing sometime in the future after radiation treatment.
  3. If a patient has a high-risk cancer, after radiation most likely will be administered hormone treatment, which has its one side effects.
Dr. David Samadi | Robotic Prostate Surgeon

About is a resource created by Dr. David Samadi in order to raise awareness and get more men to receive prostate cancer treatment. The information is strictly general and you should always discuss with your doctor issues concerning your health.


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