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Prostate Cancer: Radiation Therapy

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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.

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