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External Beam Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer


  • External beam radiation therapy is used to treat prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is a condition where a lump of cancer cells (tumor) grows inside your prostate gland. The prostate is a male sex gland that helps make semen. It wraps around the urethra and the neck of the bladder. With prostate cancer, tumor cells become cancerous and divide without control or order. With prostate cancer, it may be painful to urinate, and it may be hard for you to hold in your urine. You may lose weight and become very weak. You may have trouble getting an erection, or getting your female partner pregnant.
  • During this treatment, x-ray beams are pointed right at your tumor for a short time. A low power beam is often used, and is given every day for up to eight weeks. A wide beam may be used to treat a larger area when there is a high risk of cancer spreading to other body areas. External beam radiation therapy can be used to treat one or more cancer tumors. It can also be used to help stop cancer cells from spreading. This can be done with other treatments such as medicines, chemotherapy, and surgery. With radiation therapy, cancer cells may be killed. These treatments may also make your cancer go away, and increase the years of your life.


You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment.


  • Radiation kills cancer cells, but can also hurt normal cells. When there is too much damage from radiation, normal cells can die or grow into a tumor. When too many normal cells die, your tissues and organs may stop working. Organs and tissues near your prostate can swell and become painful. Your skin may get red and dry, placing you at a higher risk of getting infections. Your bladder and urine passages may swell, making it hard for you to hold in or let out your urine. Urine may come out when you do not expect it, such as when you cough or while you sleep. You can have problems getting an erection or getting a female partner pregnant, even years after your treatment. Radiation can hurt your bowels and cause bleeding, pain, and loose watery stools.
  • You may get a blood clot in your leg or arm. This can cause pain and swelling, and it can stop blood from flowing where it needs to go in your body. The blood clot can break loose and travel to your lungs or brain. A blood clot in your lungs can cause chest pain and trouble breathing. A blood clot in your brain can cause a stroke. These problems can be life-threatening.
  • Prostate cancer can be painful, and can make you lose weight. If your tumor is not treated, it may grow and damage areas near your prostate. Nearby tissues and organs may stop working. You may need to strain to push your urine out, and this may be painful. If your urine does not come out, it can build up in your bladder and damage your kidneys. You may have trouble getting an erection and having sex. Cancer cells can spread, causing tumors to grow in other parts of your body. Talk to your caregiver if you have questions or concerns about your condition, treatment, or care.


Before your treatment:

  • Informed consent is a legal document that explains the tests, treatments, or procedures that you may need. Informed consent means you understand what will be done and can make decisions about what you want. You give your permission when you sign the consent form. You can have someone sign this form for you if you are not able to sign it. You have the right to understand your medical care in words you know. Before you sign the consent form, understand the risks and benefits of what will be done. Make sure all your questions are answered.
  • Tests:
    • Blood tests: You may need blood taken to give caregivers information about how your body is working. The blood may be taken from your hand, arm, or IV.
    • Computerized tomography scan: This is also called a CT scan. An x-ray machine uses a computer to take pictures of the inside of your body. This shows caregivers the size, shape, and location of your tumor.
    • Magnetic resonance imaging: This is also called an MRI. During the MRI, pictures of your body are taken. An MRI may be used to check around your prostate for other problems.
    • Prostate biopsy: For this test a thin needle is used to collect a small sample of your prostate gland. This sample is taken to a lab and tested. You will need to lie very still during the procedure. You may get medicine to make you relax, or make the area lose feeling before the sample is taken. Your caregivers may stick the needle below your penis, or into your rectum. The needle has a sharp edge that will cut out a tiny piece of your prostate. After the needle is taken out, a bandage will be put over the area.
    • Ultrasound: A prostate ultrasound is a test that shows pictures of your prostate and tissues on a TV-like screen. This test shows the size, shape, and location of your tumor.
  • Vital signs: Caregivers will check your blood pressure, heart rate, breathing rate, and temperature. They will also ask about your pain. These vital signs give caregivers information about your current health.

During your treatment:

You will need to wear a hospital gown for the treatment. You may need to have a full bladder for the treatment. This will help push away the tissues around your prostate so that the radiation beam can point directly at your tumor. You are taken to a room where the treatment will be given. Caregivers will have you lie down on a special table that can be moved to different positions. The table is moved into the treatment area. A CT scan or ultrasound may be used to mark the location and shape of your tumor. This helps caregivers set and point the beam right at the tumor. Dye may be given so that caregivers can see your prostate gland clearly. When you are in the right position, pillows or supports will be used to hold you in place. You will be asked to lie still during the treatment. Your treatment will last for a short time, and should not be painful.

After your treatment:

You will be taken to a room where caregivers will watch you closely for problems. Do not try to get out of bed until your caregiver says it is OK. Later, you will be taken to your hospital room, or you may be able to go home.

Further information

Always consult your healthcare provider to ensure the information displayed on this page applies to your personal circumstances.

Learn more about External Beam Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer (Inpatient Care)

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