Prostate Cancer Radiation therapy is a primary treatment modality for individuals diagnosed with prostate cancer. In cases of localized cancer, where tumors are confined to the prostate gland, it is typically used with the goal of curing cancer. In cases in which prostate cancer is advanced or has metastasized (spread), it is often used to shrink or control tumors with the goal of reducing pain and symptoms for improved quality-of-life.
However, while radiation has been long recognized as an effective means of treating cancer, prostate cancer radiation therapy does carry the risk of side-effects. The most common short- and long-term side-effects of prostate cancer radiation therapy – urinary and bowel symptoms – are primarily caused by the exposure of surrounding healthy tissues, such as those of the bladder and rectum, to radiation as tumors are targeted for treatment.
Fortunately, recent advances in technologies and techniques are working to reduce those risks and improve outcomes. Newer, three-dimensional imaging technology and advanced radiation beam shaping devices have led to the ability to target tumors much more accurately while sparing adjacent tissues. This reduces radiation exposure to healthy cells and allows higher doses of radiation to be delivered to cancerous cells, resulting in safer, more effective treatment. Prominent examples of treatment methods that use these advanced technologies are conformal radiation therapy (CRT), intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), and proton beam radiation.
Adjacent tissues can be further protected during prostate cancer radiation therapy today with medical devices specifically designed to limit their exposure. Among the most prominent of these are rectal balloons, which are inserted in the rectum adjacent to the prostate during treatment. Once placed and inflated, rectal balloons serve two primary purposes: To immobilize the prostate gland for more accurate targeting of radiation, and to move the rectum farther away from the targeted tumor, reducing its exposure to radiation during treatment sessions. Studies have shown that use of these devices dramatically reduces radiation exposure to the rectum as well as incidence of bowel complications as a side-effect of external beam prostate cancer radiation therapy.
The bottom line is that, while today’s prostate cancer radiation therapy still comes with risks, it isn’t as risky as it was 20 years ago. Men who undergo radiation today can expect better results in eliminating or reducing prostate cancers today than was possible back then, as well as a better quality-of-life after treatment.
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3. Siavash Jabbari, M.D. Advances improve radiation therapy. The San Diego Tribune website. http://www.sandiegouniontribune.com/lifestyle/sdut-advances-improve-radiation-therapy-2016jan11-story.html. Accessed May 26, 2017.
4. Balloon Device for Prostate Cancer Protects Rectum From Radiation. Medscape website. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/739827. Accessed May 26, 2017.
5. Endorectal balloons decrease prostate radiation’s rectal and bowel sequelae. Internal Medicine News website. http://www.mdedge.com/internalmedicinenews/article/109889/genitourinary-cancer/endorectal-balloons-decrease-prostate. Accessed May 26, 2017.
6. Advances in external beam radiotherapy for prostate cancer. You have free access to this content
Trends in Urology & Men’s Health, Volume 7, Issue 4. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/tre.530/pdf. Accessed May 26, 2017.
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