According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), the outlook for patients with prostate cancer continues to improve due to advances in methods of detection and treatment. One treatment option in prostate cancer treatment is radiation therapy, the use of high-powered radiation to kill the cancer cells or stop them from growing and spreading. The ACS notes that in early cases of prostate cancer, radiation therapy is comparable to extensive surgery. There are, however, some side effects of radiation therapy.
Intestinal Side Effects
During and after radiation treatment for prostate cancer, there may be diarrhea and/or rectal pain, irritable bowels, incontinence of feces and, sometimes, bloody stools. According to the ACS, this is more common with older forms of external beam radiation, where the source of radiation is placed outside the body. Long-term bowel symptoms are not common in the newer, more focused forms of external radiation therapy, or the different forms of internal radiation therapy. In most cases, these symptoms stop when treatment ends, states the ACS.
The National Cancer Institute (NCI) adds that there are increased chances of developing rectal cancer in people who have received radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Urinary Side Effects
Burning pain while urinating, occasional blood in the urine and an increased frequency in the urge to urinate are seen in patients who have radiation treatment for prostate cancer. The ACS explains that these symptoms persist in a minority of cases even after treatment, and with internal radiation therapy, the increased frequency in the urge to urinate is seen in one out of three patients. There have also been cases of urinary stricture with internal radiation therapy, requiring surgical intervention. Urinary incontinence, notes the ACS, shows a delayed onset, but the overall incidence is less than that seen after prostate surgery. According to the NCI, the chances of developing bladder cancer are also higher in patients who receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Impotence shows a delayed onset after radiation therapy, according to the ACS, quite the contrary to surgery, where impotence is immediate and may actually improve with time. The risk of developing impotence appears to be higher in the older age groups receiving radiation therapy. According to the American College of Radiology (ACR), the overall incidence of impotence in patients who receive radiation therapy for prostate cancer is comparable to that seen in nerve-sparing prostate surgery.
Other Side Effects
The ACR mentions dermatological side effects like dryness of the skin, with or without temporary or permanent hair loss, over the area targeted by the radiation therapy. Other side effects listed by the ACS are fatigue and lymphedema, or fluid buildup in the legs and genitals.