Radiation therapy may be used as an initial treatment for localized prostate cancer. It may also be used as treatment for cancer that has not been fully removed or has recurred after surgery. In advanced cancer, radiation therapy is used to shrink the size of the tumor and relieve symptoms.
Radiation therapy used to be reserved for older men (over age 70) with locally advanced prostate cancer who had a life expectancy of 15 years or less. However, it is now being used more frequently in younger and healthier men.
The two main radiation treatments for prostate cancer are:
- External beam radiation
- Brachytherapy (internal radiation)
Both treatments have generally equal success rates. In some cases, both techniques may be used in high-risk patients.
External Beam Radiation
In external beam radiation therapy, a doctor focuses a beam of radiation directly on the tumor for 35 three-minute treatments given five times a week over 7 weeks. Three-dimensional (3-D) conformal techniques use computers and a three-dimensional image of the prostate to target the tumor precisely, using high-dose radiation beams. Patients considering external beam radiation should be aware that higher radiation doses may reduce the risk for cancer recurrence and improve survival outcome.
Patients considering external beam radiation should be aware that higher radiation doses may reduce the risk for cancer recurrence and improve survival outcome.
Review Date: 07/26/2010
Reviewed By: Harvey Simon, MD, Editor-in-Chief, Associate Professor of Medicine, Harvard Medical School; Physician, Massachusetts General Hospital. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.