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Prostate Cancer: Radiation Therapy

What is 3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy?

3-D conformal radiation therapy uses CT-based treatment (CT is short for computed tomography, which uses X-rays to produce detailed pictures inside the body) combined with three-dimensional images of a prostate tumor.

Radiation is aimed at the prostate gland from numerous directions, thus minimizing the damage to normal tissue. This technique allows for precise delivery of radiation doses. So far, it has worked well for localized tumors, such as prostate cancer limited to the prostate gland.

General Guidelines

  • All patients have a CT scan specifically for radiation therapy treatment and planning.
  • The CT data is electronically transferred to the 3-dimensional treatment planning computer.
  • The doctor defines the area to be treated along with surrounding areas, such as the bladder, rectum, bowel, and bones.
  • An optimal radiation beam and dose are analyzed using a 3-dimensional computer-generated model.
  • When the exact dose of radiation to the prostate is determined, the patient returns for a treatment simulation.
  • The simulation process transposes or maps the computer-generated plan to the patient. The doctor will review the treatment course and side effects with the patient.


Possible Side Effects

  • Hair loss may occur in the area being radiated.
  • Nausea and vomiting are uncommon unless the upper abdominal areas are radiated.
  • Mild fatigue. Patients continue their normal routine during their treatment, including working full time.
  • Frequent urination, a weak urine stream, or a mild burning with urination.
  • Diarrhea, though uncontrolled diarrhea is rare. Because the radiation beam passes through normal tissues, such as the rectum, bladder, and intestines on its way to the prostate, it kills some healthy cells. This is why diarrhea may result.
  • Possible long-term problems, including proctitis (inflammation of the rectum) with bleeding, bowel problems such as diarrhea, incontinence, and impotence.


What Is Intensity-Modulated Radiotherapy?

Intensity-Modulated Radiotherapy (IMRT) is an advanced approach to 3-D conformal radiation therapy. The IMRT technique is very precise.

IMRT uses computer-generated images to plan and then deliver tightly focused radiation beams to prostate cancer tumors. With this capability, clinicians can "paint" a precise radiation dose to the shape and depth of the tumor, while significantly reducing the harmful effects of doses on healthy tissue. Clinical studies indicate that higher dose rates delivered with IMRT techniques improve the rate of local tumor control.


Additional Questions About Radiation Therapy

Who Can I Contact If I Have Personal Concerns About My Treatment?

Many hospitals and clinics have a staff social worker who can help you during your treatment. Check with your doctor to see if this is available to you.

The social worker can discuss any emotional issues or other concerns about your treatment or your personal situation and provide information about resources. The social worker can also discuss housing or transportation needs if necessary.

People dealing with certain medical issues find it helpful to share experiences with others in the same situation. Your doctor can provide a list of support groups if you are interested. Your social worker can provide additional information, and you can look online for support group resources.

What About Follow-Up Care?

After your radiation therapy sessions are complete, you will visit your doctor for periodic follow-up exams and tests. Your doctor will tell you how often to schedule your follow-up appointments. You may be eligible to receive a Survivorship Care Plan outlining both what treatment you were given, what side effects may be expected in the short and long term, and who should be following you for what testing and care. Ask your doctor about it.



WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Jay B. Zatzkin, MD, FACP on August 03, 2013

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