Radiotherapy for early prostate cancer

Radiotherapy treatment to the prostate gland is known as radical radiotherapy. The aim is to destroy the cancer cells, while doing as little harm as possible to nearby tissues, such as the bladder or the back passage (rectum).

Radiotherapy for prostate cancer can be given in different ways.

External beam radiotherapy – This is when radiotherapy is given externally from a machine. It’s the most common way of giving radiotherapy for prostate cancer.

Brachytherapy – This is when radiotherapy is given internally into the tumour. There are two types of brachytherapy:

  • Permanent seed brachytherapy (sometimes known as low-dose rate LDR brachytherapy)
  • High-dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy.

Brachytherapy may be given together with external beam radiotherapy.

External beam radiotherapy and brachytherapy appear to be equally effective in curing prostate cancer.

You will sometimes be given hormonal therapy as well as radiotherapy. If you have intermediate-risk prostate cancer this can make the treatment more effective. It may be given before, during and/or after your radiotherapy. Your doctors will let you know if you need hormonal therapy and how long you need to take it for.

Advantages

  • It may cure the prostate cancer.
  • It may prolong the life of men who have fast-growing cancers.
  • It is less invasive than having a prostatectomy.

Disadvantages

  • It can cause erection problems and infertility.
  • For a small number of men it can also cause long-term bowel problems, such as loose or more frequent bowel motions, bleeding from the back passage or an altered bowel pattern.
  • A small number of men develop incontinence.
  • It may take some time before doctors know whether the treatment has been successful. They will check your PSA level to find out how successful the treatment has been. This should drop but it can take some time, depending on whether you have had radiotherapy on its own or with hormonal therapy. Ask your specialist for more information about this.
  • After radiotherapy you probably won’t be able to have surgery. This is because the scar tissue from radiotherapy makes surgery too difficult.
  • As the prostate gland is left in place, there is a possibility that prostate cancer may occur again in the prostate gland in the future.

Back to Radiotherapy explained

Who might I meet?

You will meet many different specialists before, during and after radiotherapy treatment.