Radiation is delivered using a machine (usually a linear accelerator) that emits a beam of radiation from outside the body through normal tissue to reach the cancer. Radiotherapy for prostate cancer involves requires a CT planning scan and usually a three field arrangement generated by computer.
The radiation is given in short sessions [known as fraction] once a day, five days a week usually over a 7-week period.
Advantages: External beam radiation therapy has a good cure rate for early prostate cancer. Because it is not a surgical procedure, it is better tolerated, especially in older men. Hospitalisation is not required and there are no life-threatening complications. When compared to radical prostatectomy, the risk of impotence and incontinence is lower.
Disadvantages: Although hospitalisation is not necessary, the patient must make visits almost daily to the hospital for six weeks. External radiation can cause a variety of other side effects and complications due to radiation damage to healthy tissue. Whilst most of these are minor and disappear shortly after therapy stops, they include fatigue, frequent and painful urination, upset stomach, diarrhoea and rectal irritation or bleeding. Mild long-term changes in bowel habit occur in 15% but can be significant in 5%. The risks of side effects are substantially reduced by modern radiotherapy techniques.
For specific information describing side effects and what patients can expect during and after radiotherapy to the prostate - click here
Further general information Your doctors and specialist nurses are in an ideal position to give you relevant information on your disease and treatment as they know your individual circumstances. Cancerbackup has a help line (0808 800 1234) and a prize winning video available in English, Italian, Urdu, Bengali, Gujarati & Hindi explaining Radiotherapy & Chemotherapy. Cancernet.co.uk has over 500 pages describing cancer, its management, practical tips and tool which patients, their carers and their doctors have found helpful during the cancer journey.