Prostate Cancer: Radiation Therapy
Radiation therapy, also called X-ray therapy, uses high levels of radiation to kill prostate cancer cells or keep them from growing and dividing, while minimizing damage to healthy cells.
Radiation can be produced from a machine outside the body (external radiation) and directed right at the prostate or by putting materials that produce radiation (radioisotopes) through thin plastic tubes into the cancer-infected area (internal radiation or brachytherapy).
Internal radiation therapy places radioactive implants directly into the tumor. These radioactive sources can be temporary (removed after the proper dose is reached) or permanent. See Radioactive Seed Implants for more about this type of radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
What Happens on Treatment Days?
External radiation therapy requires regular sessions (generally five days per week) during a period of about eight to nine weeks. For each treatment, the radiation therapist will help you onto the treatment table and into the correct position. Once the therapist is sure you are positioned well, he or she will leave the room and start the radiation treatment.
You will be under constant observation during the treatment. Cameras and an intercom are in the treatment room, so the therapist can always see and hear you. Be sure to remain still and relaxed during treatment. Let the therapist know if you have any problems or discomfort.
The therapist will be in and out of the room to reposition the machine and change your position. The treatment machine will not touch you, and you will feel nothing during the treatment. Once the treatment is complete, the therapist will help you off the treatment table.
The radiation therapist will take a port film, also known as an X-ray, on the first day of treatment and about every week thereafter. Port films verify that you are being positioned accurately during your treatments.
Port films do not provide diagnostic information, so radiation therapists cannot learn about your progress from these films. However, port films are important to help the therapists make sure the radiation is delivered to the precise area that needs treatment.
Why Are There Marks on My Skin?
Small marks resembling freckles will be made on your skin along the treatment area by the radiation therapist. These marks provide points to aim the treatment machine at and are a semi-permanent outline of your treatment area. Do not try to wash these marks off or retouch them if they fade. The therapist will re-mark the treatment area when necessary.
Will My Diet Affect My Treatment?
Yes. Good nutrition is an important part of recovering from the side effects of radiation therapy. When you are eating well, you have the energy to do the activities you want to do, and your body is able to heal and fight infection. Most important, good nutrition can give you a sense of well-being.
Since eating when you don't feel well can be difficult, consider working with a dietitian. He or she can help make sure that you are getting adequate nutrition during your radiation therapy.