Information for patients and families

Side effects


Side effects

All treatments for prostate cancer carry a risk of side effects.

People respond to treatments in different ways. The type of side effects that may be experienced depends on a number of factors, such as the stage of the prostate cancer and whether there are any compounding health problems. Side effects may appear in the short-term (known as acute side effects), which typically resolve soon after treatment. Other side effects may appear several months later (long-term side effects).

Brachytherapy is associated with a reduced risk of side effects compared to other treatment options for prostate cancer.


Short-term (acute) side effects

Immediately after the brachytherapy procedure, you may experience some of the following:1

  • Soreness or localized bruising around the perineum (the area between the scrotum and anus where the needles are inserted to deliver the brachytherapy).
  • Blood in urine and/or semen.
  • Discomfort when passing urine (may include needing to pass urine urgently or frequently).
  • These short-term side effects are typically mild in nature and usually resolve soon after treatment.


Long-term side effects

Possible long-term side effects of brachytherapy include:

  • Urinary discomfort (may include needing to pass urine urgently or frequently, or finding it difficult to pass urine).2
  • Bowel discomfort.3
  • Erectile dysfunction.4

People respond to treatments in different ways and you may or may not experience some of these side effects. Importantly, the long-term risks are generally lower with brachytherapy compared to other treatment options for prostate cancer, including surgery (radical prostatectomy) and external beam radiotherapy (EBRT).

Furthermore, even if you are affected by some of these side effects, many patients find that their urinary, bowel and sexual function returns to normal after 6-12 months.


Side-effects of other prostate cancer treatments

Treatment Side effects
Urinary Bowel Sexual function
Brachytherapy Risk of urinary discomfort (incontinence, retention, irritation).
The risk is generally lower compared with surgery and external beam radiotherapy.2
Small risk of bowel discomfort.
The risk is generally lower than external beam radiotherapy, but slightly greater than surgery.3
Risk of erectile dysfunction (impotence) typically affecting 15-30% of men.5,6
The risk is generally lower compared with surgery and external beam radiotherapy.5,6
External beam radiotherapy Risk of urinary discomfort (incontinence, retention, irritation).
The risk is generally greater compared with brachytherapy.7
Risk of bowel discomfort.
The risk is generally greater compared with brachytherapy.4
Risk of erectile dysfunction (impotence).
The risk is generally greater compared with brachytherapy.8
Surgery (prostatectomy) Risk of urinary discomfort (incontinence, retention, irritation).
The risk is generally greater compared with brachytherapy.7
Small risk of bowel discomfort.
The risk is slightly lower compared with brachytherapy.7
Risk of erectile dysfunction (impotence).
The risk is generally greater compared with brachytherapy.9


Discuss your treatment options and the relative risks of potential side effects with your healthcare professional.


Safety of radiation

A common question about brachytherapy is whether the procedure causes any radiation risks to family and friends.

If high dose rate (HDR) brachytherapy is used, the radiation sources are only temporarily placed in the body and are removed after each treatment. Hence, there is no radiation risk to family or friends.10

If low dose rate (LDR) brachytherapy (seed therapy) is used, only the seeds give out radiation, and these will not make you radioactive. The radiation levels given out by the seeds are very low and reduce to almost undetectable levels over the course of several months. As a precaution, your healthcare professional may advise you to avoid close contact with small children and pregnant women for a short time after the brachythrapy procedure.11


References

  1. Grills IS, Martinez AA, Hollander M, et al. J Urol 2004;171(3):1098-104.
  2. Stone NN, Stock RG. Urology 2007;69(2):338-42.
  3. Pickles T, Keyes M, Morris WJ. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2010;76(1):43-9.
  4. Pinkawa M, Asadpour B, Piroth MD, et al. Radiother Oncol 2009;91(2):225-31.
  5. Ash D, Bottomley D, Al-Qaisieh B, et al. Radiother Oncol 2007;84(2):135-9.
  6. Moule RN, Hoskin PJ. Surg Oncol 2009;18(3):255-67.
  7. Henderson A, Laing RW, Langley SE. Eur Urol. 2004 Feb;45(2):134-41.
  8. Ferrer M, Suarez JF, Guedea F, et al. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2008;72(2):421-32.
  9. Buron C, Le Vu B, Cosset JM, et al. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys 2007;67(3):812-22.
  10. Patel RR, Arthur DW. Hematology/Oncology Clinics of North America 2006; 20(1):97–118.
  11. National Cancer Institute. Available at: http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/factsheet/Therapy/radiation. Accessed 2 February 2011.
Page last updated on 19 April 2011.

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