Q&A Topic: Radiation Therapy for Prostate Cancer

Alfred Tinger, MD, FACRO

Q. How common is prostate cancer and what is the first step in treatment?

A. About 1 in 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. The initial management of prostate cancer for men with low risk, low PSA cancers may be active surveillance with Prostate Screen Antigen (PSA) testing and digital rectal examinations every six months with annual repeat biopsies. If active surveillance reveals a progression of cancer, a reevaluation of the treatment plan may be necessary – with radiation therapy being an excellent treatment option. For others, who have intermediate or high risk cancers, surgery and radiation therapy should both be explored.

Q. When and how is radiation therapy used to treat prostate cancer?

A. Depending on the unique characteristics and stage of cancer, radiation therapy can cure and/or alleviate symptoms of prostate cancer in various ways. With low and intermediate risk prostate cancers, radiation therapy may be used curatively alone. With more advanced cancers, radiation therapy may be used in conjunction with hormone therapy or surgery. Finally, radiotherapy can also be used as a palliative therapy to help relieve painful symptoms. Radiation therapy is delivered either externally, employing high energy radiation beams to selectively kill cancer cells in the prostate or internally, using an implantation of radioactive seeds to accomplish the same goal. Today, radiation technology is extremely sophisticated, protecting and minimizing injury to surrounding organs like the bladder and rectum.

Q. How does radiotherapy relieve symptoms stemming from prostate cancer?

A. Advanced prostate cancer can cause a number of symptoms, including pain from the metastatic spread of cancer to the bones. Given its effectiveness and non-invasive nature, radiotherapy is a painless procedure that shrinks the tumor, preventing it from pressing on the nerves or allowing the bone to heal and thereby relieving pain.

Q. How effective is radiation therapy in treating prostate cancer?

A. When radiation therapy is used as a curative treatment alone, the success rate is between 80 to 95 percent, depending on the stage of the cancer. When it’s used after surgery, radiotherapy prevents the recurrence of prostate cancer in nearly 80 percent of patients. When we employ radiation therapy as a palliative measure to relieve pain, it’s also effective 80 percent of the time – with patients requiring little to no pain medication after treatment.

Q. With various types of radiation treatment, how will my radiation oncologist decide which treatment is best for me.

A. If you are diagnosed with prostate cancer, it’s important to know all of your treatment options. At Northern Westchester Hospital, our multi-disciplinary team at the Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center has experience with all healing modalities and technology used to treat prostate cancer. We understand that each patient and every type of cancer is different and we will work together to develop a treatment plan that is right for you.

Learn More About Dr. Tinger
Chief of Radiation Oncology
Cancer Treatment & Wellness Center
Northern Westchester Hospital

Northern Westchester Hospital is a proud member of Northwell Health.

More from Dr. Tinger: 
Cancer Survivorship  
Radiation Oncology For Breast Cancer  
Treating Skin Cancer with Radiation Therapy

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