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Prostate Cancer Radiation: All About External Beam Therapy

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

If you have decided that external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) is your best option for treating prostate cancer, your next step is to learn about the treatment process. Knowing what to expect can help treatment sessions go more smoothly and alleviate the stress and anxiety you may be feeling as you prepare for treatment. While no two patients or treatment plans are exactly alike, here we’ll provide you with a general overview of what the average person can expect from prostate cancer radiation therapy.

About External Beam Prostate Cancer Radiation Therapy

Radiation therapy works by targeting cancer cells with radiation, causing damage to or death of those cells. EBRT uses a machine to deliver radiation beams to targeted treatment areas. While there are a variety of EBRT techniques, the most common for prostate cancer treatment is image-guided radiation therapy (IGRT). IGRT machines are equipped with imaging technology, allowing images of the prostate gland to be captured before and during treatment sessions. This enables optimal radiation placement, limiting radiation exposure in nearby, non-cancerous tissues. This is important in treating the prostate since its position shifts daily with changes in bladder and rectal filling.

What to Expect During Treatment

In most cases, a treatment planning procedure, called a simulation, is done before beginning prostate cancer radiation treatments. This will include imaging of the treatment area, and that area typically will be marked, either with tattoo dots on the skin or tiny markers injected into the prostate, to enable accurate targeting during treatment. Patients may also be fitted with immobilization devices for proper positioning during treatments, and endorectal balloons may be inserted, which are devices that aid in immobilizing the prostate and reducing radiation exposure to the rectum.

Sessions may be done daily or every other day for several weeks, typically anywhere from 4-12, according to your specific treatment plan. The radiation treatment itself typically takes 30 minutes or less, but setup for sessions can be time-consuming. Expect to spend at least an hour or two on each session. Treatments are painless, rather like getting an x-ray.

Side effects after radiation treatments may include fatigue, bowel irritation and/or diarrhea, bladder irritation and/or urinary urgency, and lymphedema, which is fluid retention in the groin area or legs. For the majority of patients, these symptoms will be lessened or resolved within a few months after the end of treatment.



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