What is Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy uses powerful x-rays and other high-energy rays to kill cancer cells using a machine called a 'Linear Accelerator'. Damaging the cancer cells means that they cannot grow or multiply and s o they die. Normal cells are also damaged in this procedure but usually recover.
Which patients get Radiation Therapy?
In general, radiotherapy is suitable if the cancer is still in the prostate gland and has not spread to other areas of the body.
A number of tests will be carried out to see if radiation therapy will help, including:
- Checking pathology reports
- Doing a PSA test
- Chest X-ray
- CAT scans of abdomen and pelvis
- Bone scans
There are a three steps before you start Radiation Therapy, these help the radiation therapy team plan and work out the best way to deliver the treatment to your prostate while limiting radiation to the bowel and bladder.
Simulator Planning Session
A catheter is placed into the penis and rectum and small amounts of dye are put into these to help find the exact position of your prostate gland (which varied slightly between men).
While lying face down on a couch, measurements will be done by taking x-rays from the front and side. 4 small tattoos will be used to mark the areas to be treated, while other marks will also be drawn on your skin with ink.
This procedure requires no special preparation and is not painful
Planning CT Scan
This takes place about a week after your simulator session and is similar except that catheters will not be used. You will lie on a couch as a CT scanner takes pictures of the prostate gland.
With both these sessions it is important to try not to empty your bladder just beforehand.
The Radiation Therapy team will use the information collected during your simulator session and CT scan to work out the best way to deliver your treatment.
What are the side effects?
The bowel and bladder lie next to the prostate gland and during radiotherapy some of the normal cells of the bowel or bladder may be damaged due to their proximity to the prostate. Although care is taken so that radiation does not affect these areas, sometimes it is unavoidable.
Short-term side effects may include
- A burning feeling when urinating or the need to urinate more often.
- Bowel movements may become looser and more frequent, and there may be spots of blood and discomfort when emptying the bowel.
- Many people may also feel a loss of energy and increased lethargy during radiation therapy but this should remedy soon after treatment.
- For most people side effects will settle within about a month of completing treatment, although it may other people longer.
Long-term side effects may include
- A small number of men may develop long term complications from radiation therapy such as frequent rectal bleeding or other bowel problems. Some men may find that treatment affects their sexual function, including Erectile Dysfunction and discomfort or a lack of fluid during ejaculation.
- Side effects of Radiation Therapy will differ between men and so it is impossible to determine who will have other side effects
- If you suffer any side effects it is important you let your doctor know as soon as possible so that appropriate help can be given.
- The Cancer Council's booklet Understanding Radiotherapy talks about ways to manage side effects. Phone 13 11 20 for a copy