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The Side Effects of Brachytherapy (Seed Implants) for Prostate Cancer

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Updated April 17, 2014

What Is Brachytherapy?

Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy that uses sources of radiation which are placed directly into the body. Brachytherapy for prostate cancer typically involves implanting tiny radioactive seeds into the prostate or, less often, placing needles filled with radioactive material into the prostate for a short time and then withdrawing them (this is called high dose-rate brachytherapy).

The Primary Side Effects of Brachytherapy (Seed Implants) for Prostate Cancer

  1. Urinary Problems

    Men treated with seed implants for prostate cancer often experience urinary symptoms such as painful urination, dribbling, and urinary frequency.

    Urinary problems during or after brachytherapy are typically temporary, but can last weeks or months.

    Sometime these symptoms are severe enough that medication, urinary catheterization, or surgery are needed to fix the problem.

    Overall, urinary problems are often worse with brachytherapy than with external beam radiation therapy.

  2. Rectal Problems / Problems With Bowel Movements

    Radiation from the seed implants can also cause problems with the rectum and cause difficulty with having bowel movements.

    Rectal pain during a bowel movement and loose stools are often experienced. These are usually temporary in nature.

    The rectal problems caused by brachytherapy are often less severe than those caused by external beam radiation therapy.

  3. Sexual Dysfunction

    Similar to external beam radiation therapy, some men may experience erectile dysfunction during or following brachytherapy.

    A number of treatments can address this if sexual dysfunction persists.

    Sources:

    Lesperance RN, Kjorstadt RJ, Halligan JB, Steele SR. Colorectal complications of external beam radiation versus brachytherapy for prostate cancer. Am J Surg. 2008 May;195(5):616-20; discussion 620. Epub 2008 Apr 2.

    Namiki S, Kwan L, Kagawa-Singer M, Terai A, Arai Y, Litwin MS. Urinary quality of life after prostatectomy or radiation for localized prostate cancer: a prospective longitudinal cross-cultural study between Japanese and U.S. men. Urology. 2008 Jun;71(6):1103-8. Epub 2008 Apr 14.

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