Question

Cancer Treatment

What are the side effects of brachytherapy for prostate cancer?

A Answers (1)

  • APatrick Maguire, MD, Oncology, answered
    Patients generally tolerate the procedure very well, and those with low-risk prostate cancer in our practice have enjoyed a greater than 90% chance for cure thus far. Brachytherapy is also a very cost-effective method of treatment (for men who are candidates) relative to the alternatives. The most common side effects include frequency or burning with urination, most commonly lasting from one to eight weeks following the procedure. Because the prostate lies between the base of the bladder and the front of the rectum, potential side effects are related to both of these organs. While the majority of patients who have acute side effects will have them resolve completely within the first couple of months after treatment, 15 to 20% may report urinary irritation up to a year after treatment. About 5% to 10% of patients will develop painless rectal bleeding anywhere from 6 to 24 months following the procedure, which generally resolves on its own over a few months. My colleagues and I recommend a baseline colonoscopy for men prior to treatment, so that if they develop rectal bleeding following treatment, we'll know that symptoms are due to the brachytherapy (and will likely be short-lived) rather than from an undetected colon cancer. The risk of bleeding is highest in men who are on blood thinners, including aspirin. The risk of a severe side effect following prostate brachytherapy that would require surgery to repair is very low, about 1% to 2%. The risk of severe side effects tends to be worse in patients who have a history of other chronic illnesses, including vascular disease and diabetes.
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