“Cancer” and “radiation” are two words that have a big scare factor for most people. In the world of treating cancer, however, radiation can be a source not of fear but of hope. Feeling confident that you are receiving the radiation treatment that’s best for you can help allay some of your understandable anxiety.
Reasons for Radiation Therapy
You should know that there are important reasons why your specialist would recommend radiation for your case, as well as criteria that help guide which type of radiation therapy is indicated. Treatment with radiation can be the right option for you if your cancer is very localised and well-defined. Prostate cancer treatment patients can take two forms: external beam radiation or brachytherapy.
External Beam Radiation
External beam radiation treatment is directed by a specialist in oncological (cancer) radiation. This type of therapy involves X-ray radiation from an external source being directed at the site of a cancerous tumor in order to destroy it. This type of radiation can be very effective at treating cancer of the prostate, even in cases where the cancer has spread to another organ, as long as every tumor site is clearly defined and localised.
If you are treated with external radiation, you will have to visit the radiation unit daily for several weeks to receive your full course of treatment. Being consistent in showing up for your appointments is important to maximise the benefit and minimise the amount of time you have to deal with radiation side effects.
There is another option for radiation treatment of prostate cancer that is internal rather than external. This is a procedure known as brachytherapy, and it may be an appropriate treatment option for those cancers that are not as advanced. Surgery is the gold standard for more severe or higher-risk cases, but brachytherapy can be a good approach if your cancer is localised and less dangerous. Your doctor will carefully assess the specifics of your case to determine whether you are a good candidate for this treatment method.
Brachytherapy treatment involves the insertion of radioactive material around the site of the cancer in a very targeted way. It is designed to make the most of delivering the radiation to the tumor while reducing the impact on healthy tissue.
Low Dose Brachytherapy
One type of brachytherapy is called iodine seed brachytherapy. This is basically a lower-dose version of the treatment that uses a specific form of radioactive iodine to destroy the cancer cells. The seeds will be implanted while you are under anesthesia and left inside your body. You will have ongoing checkups to monitor the success of your treatment.
High Dose Brachytherapy
The other option for brachytherapy treatment is high dose brachytherapy. Rather than having radioactive “seeds” or beads implanted and left in your body, radioactive material will be introduced to the cancer site only for a short period of time and then removed. This procedure involves a higher dose of radiation being delivered to the tumor site, but for a much shorter period of time. Your doctor may feel it is the right choice if you have a localised prostate cancer that is at a bit higher risk of recurrence.
Side Effects and Risks of Radiation Therapy
As mentioned, brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer seeks to minimise the unwanted effects to healthy parts of the body. However, all radiation treatment carries some risk of damage to nearby tissue. When treating the prostate that means that neighboring organs such as the bladder or bowel may be impacted.
If your treatment affects your bladder, you may experience an increase in how frequently you need to go to the bathroom. You may also see blood in your urine. If your bowel becomes irritated by the therapy, your bowel movements may change in consistency or frequency as well.
As with most other forms of prostate cancer treatment, you could experience some change in sexual function while undergoing radiation. You should speak with your doctor about every side effect you experience during radiation treatment. Remember, the side effects are treatable as well, but only if your healthcare team is aware of them!
Cancer treatment is often described as a journey, and your prostate cancer journey may lead you to some form of radiation therapy. Understanding why your doctor chose one treatment route over another will help you feel more confident about the direction your treatment is taking.