How effective is radiation therapy in treating prostate cancer?

Radiation therapy is a very effective treatment option for prostate cancer that is still confined to the prostate.  Recent data support radiation therapy to the prostate as having similar outcomes as prostatectomy (surgery) for prostate-confined cancer, even going out 15 years from the time of treatment.  Whether radiation is the optimal choice for a patient is determined by many factors, such as age of the patient, other health issues of the patient, and preference of the patient.  This is not a straightforward question, and patients need to sit down with their physicians to have a lengthy discussion regarding all their options, and then make a decision that is right for them.
Marc B. Garnick, MD
Hematology & Oncology
Prostate cancer radiation therapy uses radiation to destroy cancerous cells and is a reasonable alternative to surgery. There are two ways to deliver radiation: by aiming an external beam of radiation at the tumor, or by surgically implanting small radioactive pellets in the prostate gland (an approach called brachytherapy). To improve survival, radiation therapy is sometimes used in combination with a form of hormone therapy and if the hormonal therapy is given before the radiation, it is known as neoadjuvant hormone therapy.

There is some controversy over whether radiation is as effective as surgery in treating early prostate cancer, although there's no conclusive evidence in favor of either approach. However, because a small number of cancerous cells can survive after a full course of radiation, there is some concern that the cancer may recur years later, when it can no longer be treated with radiation. This is a major reason many urologists recommend surgery for men with early cancer who are age 60 or younger, although radiation oncologists often disagree. And in theory, cancer cells may be left behind or missed during surgery -- cells that might have been killed with radiation. No large, well-designed trials have compared surgery to radiation, although one, the ProtecT study, is under way.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.