Radiation therapy is one of the most commonly used treatment options for prostate cancer. For early stage prostate cancer, surgery and radiation therapy are the two primary treatment options. For men who have undergone surgery to remove their prostate, but are found to have residual prostate cancer in the pelvis, radiation therapy can be used to treat this residual tissue.
What Is External Beam Radiation Therapy?
Radiation therapy can be administered in from inside or outside the body.
Brachytherapy is radiation therapy that is administered using small radioactive implants or seeds within the body.
External beam radiation therapy involves the use of radioactive sources located outside of the body.
What Happens During External Beam Radiation Therapy?
You will need to change into a hospital gown. Then, a radiation technologist will help you onto a table where you will need to lay on your back throughout the treatment session. It’s important to lay very still throughout the treatment session so that the radiation is delivered only to the area intended.
While you lay on a table, a machine rotates around you. This machine acts to direct a beam of invisible radiation at the part of your body that needs treatment (in this case, the prostate). The machine will not touch you. While the radiation is being delivered, you will not feel pain; it's likely that you will not feel anything at all. The machine may be noisy, however.
How Often Will I Go for External Beam Radiation Therapy?
External beam radiation therapy is usually administered on a once-daily basis, Monday through Friday, for a number of weeks (up to 10, depending on the goal of your radiation therapy).
How Much of My Body Will Be Treated?
The newer external beam radiation therapy machines have the capability to deliver radiation to a very precise area within your body. For instance, if the prostate is the only area that needs to be treated with radiation, then the machine can be programmed to deliver radiation to only the prostate.
Because the radiation beams are passing through your skin and other tissues before converging on the prostate, these tissues will also receive a dose of radiation. With external beam radiation, there is no way to completely eliminate radiation to the skin and underlying tissues, but the radiation can be minimized by a number of techniques that your radiation oncologist can implement.
How Do I Plan for External Beam Radiation?
Before you go for your first treatment, you will have a meeting with your radiation oncologist so that he or she can describe the course of treatment, address any questions you may have, go over your complete medical history, and perform a physical exam.
After your initial meeting, you will then go for a radiation treatment planning session where you will have a CT scan to determine exactly where in the body the radiation will be administered. Tiny tattoos are then placed on your skin to permanently mark the borders of the treatment field. These tattoos are permanent, but very tiny.