How Long Does External Radiation Treatment Take
In most cases the total dose of radiation needed to kill a tumor cant be given all at once. This is because a large dose given one time can cause more damage to nearby normal tissues. This can cause more side effects than giving the same dose over spread out over days or weeks into many treatments.
The total dose of external radiation therapy is usually divided into smaller doses called fractions. Most patients get radiation treatments daily, 5 days a week for 5 to 8 weeks. Weekend rest breaks allow time for normal cells to recover. The total dose of radiation and the number of treatments is based on:
- The size and location of the cancer
- The type of cancer
- The reason for the treatment
- Your general health
- Any other treatments youre getting
Other radiation schedules might be used in certain cases. For instance, radiation therapy might last only a few weeks when its used to relieve symptoms, because the overall dose of radiation needed is lower. In some cases, radiation might be given as 2 or more treatments each day. Or you might have several weeks off in the middle of treatments so your body can recover while the cancer shrinks. Your doctor will talk to you about the best plan in your case.
Which Type Of Radiation Therapy Is Right For You
It can be confusing to know which radiation treatment approach is your best choice. Were here to help. When recommending one approach or another, our team of radiation oncologists will consider a number of factors, including the aggressiveness of your tumor, how advanced your disease is, and your own preferences.
It can be helpful to know about different radiation treatment scenarios that occur based on the types of conditions we commonly see. Here are a few.
Localized prostate cancer refers to a tumor that is clearly confined within the prostate. Radiation therapy options for men with early-stage, localized prostate cancer include:
- low-dose-rate brachytherapy
- stereotactic radiosurgery
For men with locally advanced prostate cancer which means the cancer has spread outside the prostate to nearby tissues options may include:
- LDR brachytherapy combined with a short course of daily IG-IMRT
- IG-IMRT combined with hormone therapy
- High-dose-rate brachytherapy combined with a short course of daily IG-IMRT
Together with your radiation oncologist, we can help you figure out which of these approaches is best for you.
Often, when a tumor is more advanced or aggressive, men receive hormone therapy before radiation therapy begins and continue it throughout the course of their treatment. Some receive hormone therapy after radiation therapy finishes as well. Hormone therapy reduces the level of testosterone throughout the body .
What Happens During Radiation Therapy Treatment
What happens during your radiation therapy treatment depends on the kind of radiation therapy you receive.
External-beam radiation therapy
External-beam radiation therapy delivers radiation from a machine outside the body. It is the most common radiation therapy treatment for cancer.
Each session is quick, lasting about 15 minutes. Radiation does not hurt, sting, or burn when it enters the body. You will hear clicking or buzzing throughout the treatment and there may be a smell from the machine. Typically, people have treatment sessions 5 times per week, Monday through Friday. This schedule usually continues for 3 to 9 weeks, depending on your personal treatment plan.
This type of radiation therapy targets only the tumor. But it will affect some healthy tissue surrounding the tumor. While most people feel no pain when each treatment is being delivered, effects of treatment slowly build up over time and may include discomfort, skin changes, or other side effects, depending on where in the body treatment is being delivered. The 2-day break in treatment each week allows your body some time to repair this damage. Some of the effects may not go away until the treatment period is completed. Let the health care professionals if you are experiencing side effects. Read more about the side effects of radiation therapy.
Internal radiation therapy
The permanent implant loses it radioactivity
The temporary implant is removed
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What Side Effects Will I Have
During your treatment, radiation must pass through your skin. You may notice some skin changes in the area exposed to radiation. Your skin may become red, swollen, warm, and sensitive, as if you have a sunburn. It may peel or become moist and tender. Depending on the dose of radiation you receive, you may notice a loss of hair or decreased perspiration within the treated area.
These skin reactions are common and temporary. They will subside gradually within four to six weeks of completing treatment. If skin changes appear outside the treated area, inform your doctor or primary nurse.
Long-term side effects, which can last up to a year or longer after treatment, may include a slight darkening of the skin, enlarged pores, increased or decreased sensitivity of the skin, and a thickening of tissue or skin.
Another possible side effect is erectile dysfunction and urinary symptoms such as frequency, bleeding, or, rarely, incontinence. Keep these side effects in mind when considering your treatment options. If you have any concerns, donât hesitate to talk to your doctor about them.
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Working During Radiation Therapy
Some people are able to work full-time during radiation therapy. Others can work only part-time or not at all. How much you are able to work depends on how you feel. Ask your doctor or nurse what you may expect from the treatment you will have.
You are likely to feel well enough to work when you first start your radiation treatments. As time goes on, do not be surprised if you are more tired, have less energy, or feel weak. Once you have finished treatment, it may take just a few weeks for you to feel betteror it could take months.
You may get to a point during your radiation therapy when you feel too sick to work. Talk with your employer to find out if you can go on medical leave. Check that your health insurance will pay for treatment while you are on medical leave.
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Diarrhea Flatulence Or Painful Defecation
These symptoms usually occur after the second or third week of treatment. Symptoms will resolve after the treatment ends. During radiation, dietary modification usually helps reduce the frequency and severity of diarrhea. Try to avoid or reduce fried foods, greasy foods and highly spiced foods. Reduce foods with insoluble fiber, such as lettuce and cauliflower, and increase low-fiber and soluable-fiber foods, such as bananas, mashed potatoes, applesauce, white rice, canned or cooked fruits and vegetables.
Maintain your intake of lean proteins, such as turkey, chicken and fish, and increase your fluid intake to avoid dehydration. Using moist toilet paper, baby wipes or sitz baths may help relieve rectal irritation. Your doctor may recommend anti-diarrheal medications. Contact your doctor if you see blood in your stool, if the diarrhea worsens or if you become light-headed or dizzy.
New Prostate Cancer Guideline Offers Shortened Radiation Time
Men being treated for early-stage prostate cancer with external beam radiation therapy can safely choose an option that reduces the number of treatment sessions, according to a panel of experts from the American Society for Radiation Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, and American Urological Association. The new guideline for doctors who treat men with prostate cancer was published October 11, 2018 in Practical Radiation Oncology, Journal of Clinical Oncology, and The Journal of Urology.
Men diagnosed with prostate cancer while its still at an early stage often have several treatment options, including active surveillance , surgery, or radiation. All have about the same cure rates for the earliest stage prostate cancers, although each type of treatment has pros and cons.
External beam radiation therapy , is a type of radiation therapy used to treat prostate cancer. A machine focuses beams of radiation on the prostate gland to kill the cancer cells. Patients typically receive treatments 5 days a week for several weeks. The new guideline uses hypofractionated radiation, where external beam radiation is given in larger doses and fewer treatments. Men treated with this approach can typically expect to complete treatment in 4 to 5 weeks, compared with 8 to 9 weeks for conventional EBRT. Ultrahypofractionated therapy increases the radiation dose even more and can be completed in as few as 5 treatments.
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How Does Hormone Therapy Work Against Prostate Cancer
Early in their development, prostate cancers need androgens to grow. Hormone therapies, which are treatments that decrease androgen levels or block androgen action, can inhibit the growth of such prostate cancers, which are therefore called castration sensitive, androgen dependent, or androgen sensitive.
Most prostate cancers eventually stop responding to hormone therapy and become castration resistant. That is, they continue to grow even when androgen levels in the body are extremely low or undetectable. In the past, these tumors were also called hormone resistant, androgen independent, or hormone refractory however, these terms are rarely used now because the tumors are not truly independent of androgens for their growth. In fact, some newer hormone therapies have become available that can be used to treat tumors that have become castration resistant.
What Happens During Each Treatment Visit
External radiation is a lot like getting a regular x-ray. The treatment itself is painless and takes only a few minutes. But each session can last 15 to 30 minutes because of the time it takes to set up the equipment and put you in the right position.
External radiation therapy is usually given with a machine called a linear accelerator which delivers a beam of radiation. The machine has a wide arm that extends over the treatment table. The radiation comes out of this arm. The machine can move around the table to change the angle of the radiation, if needed, but it wont touch you. The radiation beams are invisible and you will not feel anything, but the machine will make noise.
Depending on the area being treated, you might need to undress, so wear clothes that are easy to take off and put on. Youll be asked to lie on the treatment table next to the radiation machine.
The radiation therapist might put special heavy shields between the machine and parts of your body that arent being treated to help protect normal tissues and organs.
Once youre in the right position, the radiation therapist will go into a nearby room to operate the machine and watch you on a TV screen. The room is shielded, or protected from the radiation so that the therapist isnt exposed to it. You can talk with the therapist over an intercom. Youll be asked to lie still during the treatment, but you wont have to hold your breath.
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What Happens After Radiation Therapy Treatment Ends
Once treatment ends, you will have follow-up appointments with the radiation oncologist. It’s important to continue your follow-up care, which includes:
Checking on your recovery
Watching for treatment side effects, which may not happen right away
As your body heals, you will need fewer follow-up visits. Ask your doctor for a written record of your treatment. This is a helpful resource as you manage your long-term health care.
Heres What You Should Know About This Treatment Option
Men who get diagnosed with prostate cancer have several options to choose from for their next step. Many men with slow-growing, low-risk cancer follow active surveillance, a wait-and-see approach that monitors the cancer for changes.
But if the cancer shows higher risk or has already begun to spread, other treatments are recommended. There are two options: surgery to remove the prostate or radiation to destroy the cancer cells.
Studies comparing these two approaches demonstrate no advantage of one over the other with respect to cancer control. Your path will depend on factors like your current health, the specifics of your cancer, and personal preference. Yet for many men, radiation can be the better option.
“Its much more precise than the traditional radiation used for other kinds of cancer, and research also has found that long-term quality of life is often better, with fewer adverse health effects compared to surgery,” says Dr. Anthony DAmico, a radiation oncologist with Harvard-affiliated Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Womens Hospital.
There are two main ways to deliver radiation to the prostate: external beam radiation and brachytherapy.
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Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy
This technique uses advanced image guided techniques to deliver large doses of radiation to a precise area, such as the prostate. Because there are large doses of radiation in each dose, the entire course of treatment is given over just a few days.
SBRT is often known by the names of the machines that deliver the radiation, such as Gamma Knife®, X-Knife®, CyberKnife®, and Clinac®.
The main advantage of SBRT over IMRT is that the treatment takes less time . The side effects, though, are not better. In fact, some research has shown that some side effects might actually be worse with SBRT than with IMRT.
Managing Side Effects Of Radiation Therapy
Advances in the precision of radiation therapy have lessened the risk of complications. And our doctors are constantly developing new ways to minimize side effects. For example, we are one of the few hospitals in the United States using an FDA-approved biodegradable gel inserted before treatment to protect the rectum.
Still, radiation can cause short- and long-term side effects, including incontinence , erectile dysfunction, bowel problems, fatigue, and symptoms in other parts of the body .
Any side effects you experience depend on which part of the body receives radiation. In the case of such techniques as image-guided radiation therapy and stereotactic radiosurgery, it also depends on which normal structures are in the path of the radiations beam. In addition, radiation therapy is sometimes delivered in combination with hormonal therapy, which can cause impotence. Our experts will work closely with you and your medical team to manage any treatment-related difficulties you may experience, such as bladder, bowel, or erectile dysfunction. However, because of the sophisticated targeting systems we use, severe long-term bladder and bowel problems are now rare.
During the course of radiation treatments, some men experience diarrhea or frequent and uncomfortable urination. Please tell your treatment team if you have any of these problems. We can recommend medications and other methods that can help alleviate these uncomfortable side effects.
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Possible Side Effects Of Ebrt
Some of the side effects from EBRT are the same as those from surgery, while others are different.
Bowel problems: Radiation can irritate the rectum and cause a condition called radiation proctitis. This can lead to diarrhea, sometimes with blood in the stool, and rectal leakage. Most of these problems go away over time, but in rare cases normal bowel function does not return. To help lessen bowel problems, you may be told to follow a special diet during radiation therapy to help limit bowel movement during treatment. Sometimes a balloon-like device or gel is put between the rectum and the prostate before treatment to act like a spacer to lessen the amount of radiation that reaches the rectum.
Urinary problems: Radiation can irritate the bladder and lead to a condition called radiation cystitis. You might need to urinate more often, have a burning sensation while you urinate, and/or find blood in your urine. Urinary problems usually improve over time, but in some men they never go away.
Some men develop urinary incontinence after treatment, which means they cant control their urine or have leakage or dribbling. As described in the surgery section, there are different levels and types of incontinence. Overall, this side effect occurs less often with radiation therapy than after surgery. The risk is low at first, but it goes up each year for several years after treatment.
How Does Your Doctor Plan Your Radiation Treatment
Radiation is planned and given by a team of trained health care providers. The radiation oncologist is a doctor who treats cancer with radiation and oversees the care of each patient getting radiation. Working closely with the radiation oncologist, the radiation therapist gives the daily radiation treatment and positions patients for each treatment. Other professionals include the medical physicist and dosimetrist who plan and calculate the doses of radiation.
Before starting radiation therapy, your radiation oncologist will examine you, review your medical history and test results, and pinpoint the exact area to be treated. This planning session is called simulation. You might hear this referred to as the sim. Youll be asked to lie still on a table while the radiation therapist uses imaging scans to define your treatment field . These are the exact places on your body where the radiation beams will be aimed.
The simulation is very important and may take some time. It’s used to plan exactly where the treatment will be on or in your body. The radiation can then be delivered as directly as possible to the tumor while affecting normal, healthy tissues as little as possible.
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What Are Male Sex Hormones
Hormones are substances that are made by glands in the body. Hormones circulate in the bloodstream and control the actions of certain cells or organs.
Androgens are a class of hormones that control the development and maintenance of male characteristics. The most abundant androgens in men are testosterone and dihydrotestosterone .
Androgens are required for normal growth and function of the prostate, a gland in the male reproductive system that helps make semen. Androgens are also necessary for prostate cancers to grow. Androgens promote the growth of both normal and cancerous prostate cells by binding to and activating the androgen receptor, a protein that is expressed in prostate cells . Once activated, the androgen receptor stimulates the expression of specific genes that cause prostate cells to grow .
Almost all testosterone is produced in the testicles a small amount is produced by the adrenal glands. Although prostate cells do not normally make testosterone, some prostate cancer cells acquire the ability to do so .