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External Beam Radiation Therapy For Prostate Cancer

What you should know

  • 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.

Care Agreement

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.

Getting Ready

The week before your treatment:

  • Ask a family member or friend to drive you home after your treatment. Do not drive yourself home.
  • Medications:
    • Ask your caregiver if you need to stop using aspirin or any other prescribed or over-the-counter medicine before your procedure or surgery.
    • Bring your medicine bottles or a list of your medicines when you see your caregiver. Tell your caregiver if you are allergic to any medicine. Tell your caregiver if you use any herbs, food supplements, or over-the-counter medicine.
  • Sexual counseling: Your caregiver may ask you questions about your sexual desires and how often you have sex. He may also ask if you have trouble getting your female partner pregnant. Since erectile dysfunction is a risk after these treatments, ask your caregiver for more information about it. Be sure all your questions are answered before your treatment.
  • Tests: You may need to have urine tests, a transabdominal ultrasound, or a cystoscopy. Blood tests may be done to check the levels of your prostate specific antigen (PSA). Imaging tests, such as x-rays, computerized tomography (CT) scan, or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) may also be done. You may also need other tests, such as a bone scan or an electrocardiogram (ECG). Ask your caregiver for more information about these tests. Write down the date, time, and location of each test.
  • Biopsy: During a biopsy, a sample of prostate tissue is collected. Ask your caregiver for more information about this procedure.
  • Urologic check-up: Your caregiver will ask your questions and check your urinary system, which includes your kidneys and ureters. This helps caregivers see if your symptoms decrease or disappear after your treatment.

The night before your treatment:

  • You may be given medicine to help you sleep.

The day of your treatment:

  • Write down the correct date, time, and location of your procedure.
  • What to bring: You may want to bring items such as a toothbrush and bathrobe.
  • You or a close family member will be asked to sign a legal document called a consent form. It gives caregivers permission to do the procedure or surgery. It also explains the problems that may happen, and your choices. Make sure all your questions are answered before you sign this form.


What will happen:

You will change into a hospital gown and be taken to the room where treatment will be done. You may need to have a full bladder for the treatment. You will be treated on a special table that can be moved to different positions. The table is moved into the treatment area. Before starting, a CT scan or ultrasound may be used to mark the tumor's location and shape. This helps caregivers set and point the beam right at your tumor. Dye may be given to you to help caregivers 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.

Waiting area:

This is an area where your family and friends can wait until you are able to have visitors. Ask your visitors to provide a way to reach them if they leave the waiting area.

Contact a caregiver if

  • You cannot make it to your treatment on time.
  • Your urine is red, cloudy, and bad smelling.

Seek Care Immediately if

  • You have painful bones, such as those in your hips, legs, or back.
  • You have a fever.
  • Your legs are swollen.
  • You have sudden trouble breathing, or chest pain.
  • Your urine is coming out in drops, or no urine is coming out at all.

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 (Precare)

Micromedex® Care Notes