What Are The Side Effects Of External Beam Radiotherapy
Like all treatments for prostate cancer, radiotherapy can cause side effects. These will affect each man differently, and you might not get all the possible side effects. Sometimes bowel, urinary and sexual problems after radiotherapy treatment are called pelvic radiation disease.
Side effects happen when the healthy tissue near the prostate is damaged by radiotherapy. Most healthy cells recover so side effects may only last a few weeks or months. But some side effects can start months or years after treatment. These can sometimes become long-term problems. Before you start treatment, talk to your doctor, nurse or radiographer about the side effects. Knowing what to expect can help you deal with them.
If you have hormone therapy as well as radiotherapy, you may also get side effects from the hormone therapy. Read more about the side effects of hormone therapy and how you can manage them.
If youre having radiotherapy as a second treatment, and you still have side effects from your first treatment, then radiotherapy can make those side effects worse or last longer. It may also cause other side effects. The most common side effects of radiotherapy are described here.
Short-term side effects of radiotherapy
Radiotherapy can irritate the lining of the bladder and the urethra, which is the tube men urinate and ejaculate through. This can cause urinary problems, such as:
Tiredness and fatigue
Problems with ejaculation
Skin irritation and hair loss
How Sex Might Be Affected
With some types of radiation therapy involving the pelvis and/or sex organs, men and women may notice changes in their ability to enjoy sex or a decrease in their level of desire.
For women: During radiation treatment to the pelvis, some women are told not to have sex. Some women may find sex painful. Treatment can also cause vaginal itching, burning, and dryness. You most likely will be able to have sex within a few weeks after treatment ends, but check with your doctor first. Some types of treatment can have long-term effects, such as scar tissue that could affect the ability of the vagina to stretch during sex. Again, your cancer care team can offer ways to help if this happens to you. You can also get more information in Sex and Women With Cancer.
For men: Radiation may affect the nerves that allow a man to have erections. If erection problems do occur, they are usually gradual, over the course of many months or years. Talk with your doctor about treatment options if this is a concern for you. You can get more information in Sex and Men With Cancer.
If you get internal radiation therapy with seed implants, check with your cancer care team about safety precautions during sex
New Study Compares Long
- By Charlie Schmidt, Editor, Harvard Medical School Annual Report on Prostate Diseases
Prostate cancer therapies are improving over time. But how do the long-term side effects from the various options available today compare? Results from a newly published study are providing some valuable insights.
Investigators at Vanderbilt University and the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center spent five years tracking the sexual, bowel, urinary, and hormonal status of nearly 2,000 men after they had been treated for prostate cancer, or monitored with active surveillance . Cancers in all the men were still confined to the prostate when diagnosed.
Dr. Karen Hoffman, a radiation oncologist at MD Anderson and the studys first author, said the intent was to provide information that could help men choose from among the various therapeutic options. Surgical and radiation techniques have changed significantly in the last few decades, and at the same time, active surveillance has become an increasingly acceptable strategy, she said. We wanted to understand the adverse events associated with contemporary approaches from the patients perspective.
Roughly two-thirds of the men enrolled in the study had favorable risk cancer, which is nonaggressive and slow-growing. A quarter of these men chose active surveillance, and the rest were treated with one of three different methods:
Side Effects Of Prostate Cancer Treatment
The side effects of treatment vary depending on several factors, and they can be distressing. You should talk through options and concerns with your doctor before deciding which treatment to use for your prostate cancer.
Some common side effects of types of treatment include:
- Surgery many men will have temporary urinary incontinence . Almost all men will have a change to their sexual function and most men will have erectile dysfunction .
- Radiotherapy a small number of men will have bowel problems. Between 40 and 80 per cent of men who have radiotherapy will experience immediate or delayed erectile dysfunction.
- Brachytherapy erectile dysfunction and bowel problems can occur. Some men may experience painful urination and irritation of the bladder for several months after therapy. Urinary incontinence is not usually a problem.
- Hormone therapy side effects may include erectile dysfunction, tiredness, mood changes, hot flushes and loss of sex drive.
Coping with some of these side effects can be very difficult. It is important that you discuss possible side effects with your specialist before treatment.
Early And Late Effects Of Radiation Therapy
- Early side effects happen during or shortly after treatment. These side effects tend to be short-term, mild, and treatable. Theyre usually gone within a few weeks after treatment ends. The most common early side effects are fatigue and skin changes. Other early side effects usually are related to the area being treated, such as hair loss and mouth problems when radiation treatment is given to this area.
- Late side effects can take months or even years to develop. They can occur in any normal tissue in the body that has received radiation. The risk of late side effects depends on the area treated as well as the radiation dose that was used. Careful treatment planning can help avoid serious long-term side effects. Its always best to talk to your radiation oncologist about the risk of long-term side effects.
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Surgery For Prostate Cancer
A radical prostatectomy is the surgical removal of the prostate. This procedure may be performed through traditional open surgery, which involves one large incision in the abdomen. Laparoscopic surgery using the robotic daVinci® Surgical System is a minimally invasive alternative. Robotic surgery only requires a few small incisions in the abdomen, which may result in reduced pain, lower risk of infection and a shorter hospital stay after surgery.
The technology associated with the robotic surgical system is designed to give the surgeon greater precision and control, which may help spare healthy tissue and one or two of the nerve bundles on the sides of the prostate. This often allows the patient to have better erectile functionin both the short term and long term.
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Dry Orgasm And Infertility
Both the prostate and the glands responsible for semen production are removed during surgery, which is a common prostate cancer treatment. If you received this treatment, youd still be able to have an orgasm but youd no longer ejaculate.
This means that youll no longer be fertile. If you plan to have children in the future, you may consider banking your sperm before your surgery.
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Inflammation Of The Back Passage
Inflammation of the back passage is a long term side effect. Proctitis can cause a feeling of wanting to strain whether or not you actually need to pass a bowel movement. You might also have bleeding from your back passage or a slimy mucous discharge.
Bleeding is usually slight but can be more severe for some people. Talk to your radiographer or nurse if you have proctitis. They might suggest you use treatments such as steroid suppositories for a short time. This might reduce the inflammation.
How Can I Reduce Skin Reactions
- Gently cleanse the treated area using lukewarm water and a mild soap such as Ivory, Dove, Neutrogena, Basis, Castile, or Aveeno Oatmeal Soap. Do not rub. Pat your skin dry with a soft towel or use a hair dryer on a cool setting.
- Try not to scratch or rub the treated area.
- Do not apply any ointment, cream, lotion, or powder to the treated area unless your radiation oncologist or nurse has prescribed it.
- Do not wear tight-fitting clothing or clothes made from harsh fabrics such as wool or corduroy. These fabrics can irritate the skin. Instead, choose clothes made from natural fibers such as cotton.
- Do not apply medical tape or bandages to the treated area.
- Do not expose the treated area to extreme heat or cold. Avoid using an electric heating pad, hot water bottle, or ice pack.
- Do not expose the treated area to direct sunlight, as sun exposure may intensify your skin reaction and lead to severe sunburn. Choose a sunscreen of SPF 30 or higher. Protect the treated area from direct sunlight even after your course of treatment is over.
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How Fertility Might Be Affected
For women: Talk to your cancer care team about how radiation might affect your fertility . Its best to do this before starting treatment so you are aware of possible risks to your fertility.
Depending on the radiation dose, women getting radiation therapy in the pelvic area sometimes stop having menstrual periods and have other symptoms of menopause. Report these symptoms to your cancer care and ask them how to relieve these side effects.Sometimes menstrual periods will return when radiation therapy is over, but sometimes they do not.
See Fertility and Women With Cancer to learn more.
For men: Radiation therapy to an area that includes the testicles can reduce both the number of sperm and their ability to function. If you want to father a child in the future and are concerned about reduced fertility, talk to your cancer care team before starting treatment. One option may be to bank your sperm ahead of time.
See Fertility and Men With Cancer to learn more.
What Are The Side Effects Of Brachytherapy
- Frequent urination or urinary retention or burning with urination
- Erectile dysfunction
- Urethral stricture or narrowing of the urethra
- Diarrhea or blood in the stool
- Secondary cancers
For the short time that the seeds are giving off larger amounts of radiation, you should avoid close proximity to children or pregnant women. Make sure to talk with your radiation oncologist or oncology nurse for instruction about radiation safety and exposure for family members or pets.
If you are traveling through an airport following brachytherapy treatment, there is a chance that radiation detectors will be set off. Talk to your radiation oncologist and ask for a note to indicate youve just had radiation treatment.
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Having External Beam Radiotherapy
You have external beam radiotherapy as an outpatient in the radiotherapy department. Radiotherapy is given using a machine that is like a big x-ray machine. This is called a linear accelerator .
You usually have it as a series of short, daily treatments. The treatments are given from Monday to Friday, with a rest at the weekend. Your course of treatment may last for 4 to 8 weeks. Radiotherapy is not painful, but you will need to lie still while you have it.
You may have radiotherapy over 4 weeks instead of over 7 weeks. The total dose of radiation is the same for both. But when it is given over 4 weeks, the dose for each treatment session is higher. Doctors call this hypofractionation. Both are effective treatments. Your cancer doctor will recommend the best timing and way for you to have your radiotherapy.
The radiotherapy does not make you radioactive. It is safe for you to be with other people during external radiotherapy, including children.
Side Effects Of Radiation For Prostate Cancer
The primary potential side effects of radiation treatment for prostate cancer include bowel problems, urinary problems and sexual function issues.
According to patient-reported outcomes measuring quality of life from men who participated in the 10-year, randomized Prostate Testing for Cancer and Treatment trial, men who were treated with radiation reported little increase in urinary leakage after radiation therapy. They also reported less sexual dysfunction when compared to men who were treated with surgery. However, men treated with radiation reported a higher incidence of bowel problems, such as loose and bloody stools. These side effects are often short-term for most patients, but some experience long-term side effects.
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Will My Diet Affect My Treatment
Yes. Good nutrition is an important part of recovering from the side effects of radiation therapy. When you are eating well, you have the energy to do the activities you want to do, and your body is able to heal and fight infection. Most important, good nutrition can give you a sense of well-being.
Since eating when you dont feel well can be difficult, consider working with a dietitian. They can help make sure that you are getting adequate nutrition during your radiation therapy.
Late Effects After Radiation For Prostate Cancer
Side effects from radiation treatment are directly related to the area of the body being treated. Any area in the treatment field has a risk of being damaged, causing side effects. As radiation techniques have improved over the years, the risk of late effects has decreased.
Radiation to the pelvic area can cause late effects to the bladder including:
The bowel is sensitive to the effects of radiation. The late effects that may occur after radiation including the rectum, colon, or small bowel include:
Surgery to remove lymph nodes or radiation to lymph nodes can cause damage to lymph nodes and lead to lymphedema. Lymphedema is swelling that can occur in the genital area, belly, buttocks, legs or feet after treatment. It can cause pain, be disfiguring, make activity difficult and increase the risk of infection in the area.
- Talk to your provider if you are having any new swelling. A Certified Lymphedema Therapist should be consulted at the first sign of swelling to try to keep the lymphedema from worsening.
- You are at risk of infection in any area with lymphedema or that is at risk for lymphedema. If you experience any signs of infection, contact your care team right away or go to the emergency room. These signs include a sudden increase in swelling, an increase in pain, redness, the area is warm to the touch, or fever.
Impact on Reproductive Organs, Sexual Function, and Fertility
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Radiation Therapy: What It Is
This therapy, also known as radiotherapy, is a cancer treatment procedure that uses high doses of radiation to kill cancerous cells and shrink the tumor as well. At low doses, this procedure is used as an x-ray.
This therapy can be internal or external or both form. For external beam, a machine that is outside your body aims at the cancerous cells. For internal therapy, the radiations are placed inside your body inside or near the cancer.
For radiotherapy for prostate cancer, high-energy rays are used to kill the cancer cells. This treatment procedure does not cause pain. However, it may result in various side effects that might cause pain and make you feel uncomfortable. The good thing is that there are numerous ways to manage radiotherapy side effects with the help of your radiation oncologist.
Side Effects Of Surgery For Prostate Cancer
The most commonly experienced side effects of surgery for prostate cancer are urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction.
According to the patient-reported outcomes from men who participated in the ProtecT trial, men who undergo a radical prostatectomy experience more sexual dysfunction and urinary problems than those treated with radiation therapy.
While many reported an improvement in the severity of their symptoms six months after surgery, these men continued to report poorer sexual quality of life six years after surgery compared to those who had radiation therapy.
While men treated with radiation reported experiencing bowel function problems after treatment, the men who had a prostatectomy were generally able to undergo the procedure without experiencing any changes in bowel function after surgery.
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Are There Side Effects Of The Combination Approach
There is a slightly higher chance that patients who receive the combined therapy will have rectal irritation or urinary side effects, both of which are common with any radiation treatment given to the prostate. But at MSK, we routinely use sophisticated planning techniques that help us reduce the dose given to normal tissues such as the rectum, bladder, and urethra, lessening the chances of side effects and complications.
In addition, at MSK, we routinely use a rectal spacer gel, which we inject between the prostate and the rectum while the patient is under mild anesthesia, to create a buffer between these two tissues. By creating this space, we can further reduce the dose of radiation that the rectum is exposed to. This leads to fewer side effects for the patient. The rectal spacer gel is biodegradable and after a few months dissolves on its own within the body, causing no harm or long-term effects.
If Youre Getting Radiation Therapy To The Abdomen
If you are getting radiation to your stomach or some part of the abdomen , you may have side effects such as:
Eating or avoiding certain foods can help with some of these problems, so diet planning is an important part of radiation treatment of the stomach or abdomen. Ask your cancer care team about what you can expect, and what medicines you should take to help relieve these problems. Check with your cancer care team about any home remedies or over-the-counter drugs youre thinking about using.
These problems should get better when treatment is over.
Some people feel queasy for a few hours right after radiation therapy. If you have this problem, try not eating for a couple of hours before and after your treatment. You may handle the treatment better on an empty stomach. If the problem doesnt go away, ask your cancer care team about medicines to help prevent and treat nausea. Be sure to take the medicine exactly as you are told to do.
If you notice nausea before your treatment, try eating a bland snack, like toast or crackers, and try to relax as much as possible. See Nausea and Vomiting to get tips to help an upset stomach and learn more about how to manage these side effects.
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