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Prostate Cancer Radiation Side Effects

Prostate Cancer Radiation Side Effects

Radiation therapy is an effective measure for treating prostate cancer, and aims at destroying the cancerous cells present in the prostate gland. However, it has various side effects too.
Deepa Kartha
Last Updated: Apr 23, 2018
Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer that affects men. This happens when the prostate gland present in man's reproductive system is affected by cancerous cells. It is usually found in men above 65 years, but there have also been many cases where even younger men have been diagnosed with the condition.
Though it is a serious disease, with the advancement of technology, there are a variety of treatment measures that aid in treating prostate cancer. The two most popular ways are surgery and radiation therapy. The treatment measure used would vary from person to person. For some, only surgery would be used, while for others, radiation therapy would be the more effective. Sometimes, the treatment would be a combination of both surgery and radiation. Other treatment measures can include chemotherapy, hormonal therapy, etc.
Types of Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer
External Radiation Therapy: This is a form of radiation therapy that is done by exposing the radiation to the affected area externally. This therapy, which is also known as radiotherapy, is actually a painless procedure. However, the treatment has to be done for five days a week, and it takes almost 5 - 6 weeks for the whole procedure to get over. During the treatment, the external part of the cancerous area is marked, and a radiation beam is exposed to that part. The specialist would monitor the cancerous cells before and after every session.
Internal Radiation Therapy: As the name suggests, internal radiation therapy is where the treatment is done directly. In this form, certain seeds that possess radioactive energy are inserted into the prostate. The seeds emit radiation for some time, and once the radiation effect dies down, the seeds lie in the prostate gland harmlessly. This treatment procedure, which is also known as prostate brachytherapy, takes only an hour, and unlike external radiation therapy, the patient does not require to visit the specialist more than once. Hence, more and more people are going for internal radiation therapy. However, doctors do not recommend this treatment for people who have reached very advanced stages of prostate cancer.
Related Side Effects
Though there have been many cases where radiation therapy has helped in treating prostate cancer effectively, most people experience certain side effects. When therapy is done, the radiation is likely to affect the vital organs that surround the prostate gland, leading to other health problems.
  • One of the common side effects experienced by most people is extreme fatigue or tiredness. During the treatment, the patient should take an ample amount of rest, and should structure his routine so that he takes frequent naps. Following a healthy diet would also help in fighting the fatigue. This is not a permanent phenomenon, and would go away 2 - 3 months after the therapy has been completed.
  • Incontinence is one of the very serious side effects. During the therapy, along with the prostate gland, sometimes, the urinary sphincter is also exposed to radiation, thus damaging it. A person suffering from incontinence may have the frequent urge to urinate, and may not be able to control himself from wetting his pants. Though this is usually a temporary matter, there have been cases where this problem continues for a long time, and requires a surgery for completely curing it.
  • Another problem is of impotence. Patients of prostate cancer have been observed to have suffered from erectile dysfunction after going through radiation therapy. If during the therapy, the testicles are exposed to the radiation, it may kill the sperms, leading to infertility. Though erectile dysfunction can be treated with the help of medications, there is no cure for infertility.
  • The procedure can also cause problems in the bowel movements of the patient. Many patients have experienced frequent bowel urgency, pain during defecating, diarrhea, etc. This happens if the rectal area is affected by radiation. In most cases, this can be treated with medications. However, there are many men who have these problems for the rest of their lives.
  • Radiation therapy can cause damage to tissues of the rectum, bladder, etc., which have to be corrected with surgical treatment.
Awareness of these side effects can help a patient prepare and seek medical assistance as and when the need arises.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.