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What are some of the side effects from radiation treatment for prostate cancer?

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Radiation treatment involves targeting the prostate gland with high levels of radiation. The goal is to kill prostate cancer cells or prevent their growth and division while minimizing damage to surrounding healthy tissues. A very effective means of battling this type of cancer, radiation therapy has contributed to today’s high prostate cancer 5-year survival rates – 98.9 percent for men diagnosed in early stages of the disease, according to National Cancer Institute statistics. However, as with any medical procedure, there are potential side effects from radiation treatment for prostate cancer.

Possible Short-Term Side Effects

Short-term side effects from radiation treatment for prostate cancer are those that may occur while treatment is ongoing and may persist for several weeks or months after treatment is completed. Among the most common are:

  • Skin irritation – Skin in the treatment area may become reddened, sensitive or dry.

  • Fatigue – This typically begins a few weeks into treatment and gradually resolves after treatments are completed.

  • Urinary symptoms – These may include increased urgency and more frequent urination, particularly at night, and bleeding with urination.

  • Rectal symptoms – During treatment and shortly afterwards, patients can experience irritation of or bleeding from the rectum.

  • Hair loss in the treatment area – This is temporary, in most cases, but some men may experience permanent hair loss.

Potential Long-Term Side Effects From Radiation Treatment For Prostate Cancer

Long-term side effects are problems that persist or develop months or years after undergoing radiation treatment. These may include:

  • Erectile dysfunction – This side effect can develop in some men within 5 years of treatment.

  • Bowel problems – These can include diarrhea, constipation, rectal bleeding an poor bowel control.

  • Urinary symptoms – Frequency, urgency, bleeding and/or mild-to-severe incontinence.

  • Sterility – Most men will be sterile after treatment.

  • Secondary cancers – There is a low risk of tumor development near treatment areas due to radiation exposure to healthy tissues.

It is important to note that not all patients experience side effects, and for those who do, treatment options are available for many of these issues. Additionally, the risk of more troublesome side effects can be reduced by newer treatment methods. For instance, use of a rectal balloon can decrease radiation exposure to surrounding tissues, reducing risk of long-term bowel problems or secondary cancers. Learning about your personal risk level is best done via a detailed risk/benefit discussion with your doctor.



1. Prostate Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version. National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed February 15, 2017.

2. Cancer Stat Facts: Prostate Cancer. National Cancer Institute Website. Accessed February 15, 2017.

3. Possible Side Effects of Radiation Treatment for Prostate Cancer. OncoLink Website. Updated June 28, 2016. Accessed February 15, 2017.

4. Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer. American Cancer Society Website. Accessed February 15, 2017.

5. For Patients. Myriad Medical Website. Accessed February 15, 2017.

6. Emile N.J.Th. van Lin, M.D., Jón Kristinsson, M.D. Mariëlle E.P. Philippens, M.D., et al. Reduced late rectal mucosal changes after prostate three-dimensional conformal radiotherapy with endorectal balloon as observed in repeated endoscopy. International Journal of Radiation Oncology. 2007; 67 (3): 799–811. Accessed February 15, 2017.


Melinda L. Secor left a 20-year career in health care and developmental disabilities 10 years ago to become a full-time freelance writer. In addition to blogging regularly, she writes for numerous websites on a wide range of topics, most frequently related to medical care, health, wellness and nutrition.



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