External radiotherapy for prostate cancer

Radiotherapy uses high energy x-rays to treat cancer cells. You might have radiotherapy for prostate cancer. 

You have external radiotherapy in a hospital radiotherapy department. You usually have it as an outpatient each weekday over 4 to 8 weeks. Some hospitals have rooms near the hospital you can stay in if you have a long way to travel.

You might also have hormone therapy before, during and for some time after the radiotherapy.

The radiotherapy room

Radiotherapy machines are very big and could make you feel nervous when you see them for the first time. The machine might be fixed in one position or able to rotate around your body to give treatment from different directions. The machine doesn't touch you at any point.

Before your first treatment, your therapy radiographers Open a glossary item will explain what you will see and hear. In some departments the treatment rooms have docks for you to plug in music players. So you can listen to your own music while you have treatment.

Photo of a linear accelerator

Before each treatment session

You might need to drink a certain amount of water before each treatment so that your bladder is full. This can help to reduce the movement of the prostate between treatments and reduce the dose radiation to the bladder. You have to drink the same amount of water each time so that your bladder is the same size.

The radiographers help you to get into position on the treatment couch. They line up the radiotherapy machine using the marks on your skin. 

Then the radiographers leave you alone in the room for up to 25 minutes.

This video is about having radiotherapy it lasts for 2 minutes and 17 seconds. 

During the treatment

You need to lie very still on your back. Your radiographers might take images (x-rays or scans) before your treatment to make sure that you're in the right position. The machine makes whirring and beeping sounds. You won’t feel anything when you have the treatment.

Your radiographers can see and hear you on a CCTV screen in the next room. They can talk to you over an intercom and might ask you to hold your breath or take shallow breaths at times. You can also talk to them through the intercom or raise your hand if you need to stop or if you're uncomfortable.

You won't be radioactive

This type of radiotherapy won't make you radioactive. It's safe to be around other people, including pregnant women and children.

Travelling to radiotherapy appointments

You might have to travel a long way each day for your radiotherapy, depending on where your nearest cancer centre is. This can make you very tired, especially if you have side effects from the treatment.

You can ask the therapy radiographers Open a glossary item for an appointment time to suit you. They will do their best, but some departments might be very busy. Some radiotherapy departments are open from 7am till 9pm.

Car parking can be difficult at hospitals. You can ask the radiotherapy staff if they can give you a hospital parking permit for free parking or advice on discounted parking. They may be able to give you tips on free places to park nearby.

The radiotherapy staff may be able to arrange transport if you have no other way to get to the hospital. Your radiotherapy doctor would have to agree. This is because it is only for people that would struggle using public transport and have no access to a car. 

Some people are able to claim back a refund for healthcare travel costs. This is based on the type of appointment and whether you claim certain benefits. Ask the radiotherapy staff for more information about this.

Some hospitals have their own drivers and local charities might offer hospital transport. So do ask if any help is available in your area.

Side effects of treatment

Radiotherapy to the prostate can affect your bladder and bowels. This can mean you might have to wee and empty your bowel more often than normal.

Treatment choices

Your doctor might offer you a choice of treatments, such as monitoring the cancer or having surgery or radiotherapy. These treatment choices have different benefits and side effects.

Last reviewed: 
20 Jun 2019
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    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), 2019

  • EAU guidelines on prostate cancer. part 1: screening, diagnosis, and local treatment with curative intent-update 2013
    A Heidenreich and others for the European Association of Urology
    European Urology, 2014. Vol 65, Issue 1, Pages 124-37

  • Multi-disciplinary Team (MDT) Guidance for Managing Prostate Cancer
    British Uro-oncology Group (BUG) and the British Association of Urological Surgeons (BAUS) Section of Oncology, 2013

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    VT Devita, TS Lawrence and SA Rosenberg
    Wolters Kluwer Health, 2015

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    Peter Hoskin
    Oxford University Press, 2012

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