Using Energy to Kill Prostate Cancer Cells

Radiation therapy is a potential treatment option for all stages of prostate cancer. It can be used to treat early-stage prostate cancer instead of surgery, and it is sometimes used after surgery to destroy any cancer cells that may remain behind. In men with advanced prostate cancer, radiation therapy may be used to treat areas where the tumor has spread or metastasized and to relieve pain. There are several types of radiation therapy, all of which use high doses of radiation energy to destroy cancer cells and shrink tumors.  

Radiation from outside the body:  This treatment, called external beam radiation therapy, is delivered by a machine that focuses the radiation at your cancer. Some types of external radiation therapy use computers to more closely target the cancer cells and lessen the damage to healthy tissue. These include intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT) and 3-dimensional conformal radiation therapy (3-D Conformal RT). Another type of external radiation therapy is proton therapy, which uses proton beams rather than radiation to target and destroy the cancer cells. For external beam radiation or proton therapy, you will go to a hospital or clinic for a short 15-minute session five days a week, usually for seven to nine weeks.  

Radioactive material inside the prostate: This treatment is called brachytherapy. It is also known as internal radiation or “seed” implantation. In this outpatient procedure, dozens of sealed radioactive “seeds” are placed into needles and guided into the prostate by a urologist or radiation oncologist using ultrasound guidance. These seeds give off radiation for a few weeks or months, and do not need to be removed once the radiation is gone. Another method involves placing radioactive probes into your prostate over the course of a one- to two-day hospital stay. The probes are all removed before you go home.  

Before choosing radiation therapy, consider ...

Radiation does not remove the prostate, so there is always a chance some cancer cells will be missed. Side effects depend mainly on the type of radiation therapy and how much radiation is given. Both external and internal radiation therapy can cause temporary diarrhea or rectal pain as well as skin damage (like a severe sunburn). Possible long-term effects include loss of sexual function or impotence, painful or frequent urination, and loose bowels. These problems may develop six months or more after treatment ends and may be permanent.