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About radiotherapy for prostate cancer

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This page tells you about radiotherapy for prostate cancer. There is information about

 

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Radiotherapy for early prostate cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to treat cancer. If your cancer has not spread, you can have radiotherapy to try to cure it. There are 2 main types of radiotherapy treatment; external radiotherapy and internal radiotherapy. 

External radiotherapy aims radiation to the cancer from a machine. The treatment is not painful and lasts between 4 to 8 weeks. Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy) uses radiation to treat the prostate from inside. This treatment can last around 2 days and can be uncomfortable.

Radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer that has spread

Radiotherapy can treat prostate cancer that has spread, for example to the bones. It can help to slow down the cancer growth in the treatment area and relieve symptoms.

Sometimes, doctors treat the whole body with internal radiotherapy to help control bone pain. You have an injection of a radioactive substance such as radium 223 or strontium 89. The radioactive liquid circulates throughout the body and is taken up by the cancer cells in the bone. It can destroy the cancer cells. 

 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the Treating prostate cancer section.

 

 

Radiotherapy to try to cure prostate cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy rays to treat cancer. If your cancer has not spread beyond the prostate gland you can have radiotherapy to try to cure it. This is called radical radiotherapy. This type of treatment involves giving a high dose of radiation to the prostate gland. 

Radical radiotherapy is more likely to cure you if your cancer is found very early. When diagnosed at its earliest stage, all men with prostate cancer survive their diseases for 5 years or more. This is compared to a third of men who were diagnosed at a late stage (stage 4).

There are different ways of giving radiotherapy to try to cure prostate cancer. These include external beam therapy and internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy).

External beam therapy

External beam radiotherapy directs radiotherapy beams at the cancer from a machine.

Internal radiotherapy (brachytherapy)

Internal radiotherapy treats the prostate cancer with radiotherapy from inside the prostate gland.

 

Radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer that has spread

Radiotherapy is used in two main ways to treat more advanced prostate cancer. It can be used for

  • Treating individual areas of cancer that has spread
  • Treating the whole body to control pain

Treating individual areas of cancer that has spread

External radiotherapy is used to shrink secondary tumours and control pain. It is mainly used to treat secondary cancer in the bones. The treatment works by killing off most of the cancer cells in the treated area. This makes the cancer shrink, and so relieves the pressure on nerves that causes pain. 

Secondary bone cancer also weakens the bones because the growing cancer cells destroy the bone. A bone affected by cancer is more likely to break (fracture), although this is rare in prostate cancer. After radiotherapy treatment, bone cells begin to replace the lost bone tissue. Then the bone gets stronger again and is less likely to fracture.

Treating the whole body to control pain

Treatment to control symptoms is called palliative radiotherapy. Sometimes a large area of the body is treated in one go with a lower dose of radiation from an external radiotherapy machine. This is called hemi pelvis irradiation.

If several areas of bone are affected by cancer, doctors may suggest using an internal radiotherapy treatment such as radium 223 or strontium 89. These are radioactive liquid therapies (radio isotopes) given by injection into a vein. The radium 223 or strontium 89 circulates throughout the body. It is taken up by the areas of cancer cells in the bone and destroys them. 

This type of treatment can help to control pain. It can also slow down the rate of growth of the cancer in the bones.

In Scotland, the Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC) have accepted radium 223 as a prostate cancer treatment if hormone treatment is no longer working. You can have it if the cancer in your bones is causing symptoms, and the cancer has not spread to other body organs, such as the lungs or liver. 

The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) are reviewing radium 223 for prostate cancer and should make a decision this year.

 

More information about radiotherapy

Find out about

External radiotherapy

Internal radiotherapy

Radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer that has spread

Secondary cancers in bones

Radium 223

Strontium 89

Scottish Medicines Consortium (SMC)

National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE)

UK Prostate Link can also direct you to information about radiotherapy to treat prostate cancer

For general information and support

Contact the Cancer Research UK nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040 (Open 9am - 5pm, Monday to Friday)

Share experiences on our online forum with Cancer Chat

Prostate impact statement radiotherapy

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Updated: 24 February 2014