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The first important thing to understand about prostate cancer: you are not alone, as you will see in the highlighted facts below. Prostate cancer is a type of “genitourinary” cancer that affects the urinary and male reproductive organs. Today, options for treating prostate cancer, including radiation therapy, continue to advance. Throughout your cancer journey—from screening and diagnosis to treatment and survivorship—your medical care team is with you every step of the way.

Worldwide, prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men after lung cancer.

About one in five men globally will be diagnosed with prostate cancer over the course of their lifetime.

Prostate cancer is more likely to develop in older men and in non-Hispanic Black men.

Prostate cancer

Your treatment plan

There are a variety of treatment options for prostate cancer. Your treatment plan will depend on several factors, including the stage of the disease, your age and general health, and whether the cancer is new or recurrent.

Radiation therapy may be used as the first line of treatment. It is also used following surgery to treat any cancer cells that remain, reducing the risk of cancer recurrence.

For some prostate cancer patients, Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy (SBRT)/ Stereotactic Ablative Radiotherapy (SABR) may be appropriate. With this treatment, tumors may be treated in one to five sessions.

Prostate cancer

Radiation therapy treatment techniques

There are different types of radiation therapy—sometimes called radiotherapy or “RT”—for prostate cancer, including:

Prostate cancer

Possible side effects

Side effects are cumulative, which means they can develop over several weeks or months as the body responds to radiation. You can ask your radiation oncologist what you might expect from your specific treatment. Every patient’s treatment is different, but these are some common side effects of prostate cancer radiation therapy:

  • Fatigue
  • Skin irritation with the treatment field
  • Changes in bowel and/or bladder habits
  • Rectal/urethral bleeding
  • Impotence and/or sterility

Prostate cancer

Your treatment journey

When it comes to preparing for your prostate cancer treatment, knowledge is power. That includes knowing what to expect during your treatment journey so you can move forward one informed and empowered step at a time. Here is a brief outline of what you can expect during external beam radiation treatment. The details of some steps may differ, depending on your particular case..

Step 1: Consultation

First, you'll meet with your radiation oncologist to discuss what type of radiation treatment options are recommended for your specific case, and make a decision together about your treatment.

Step 2: Simulation

As part of your treatment planning, the exact area of the tumor must first be determined. This is usually done using a CT scan, short for computed tomography, providing a detailed 3-D image of the treatment area using x-rays. Sometimes temporary skin marks or even tiny tattoos (about the size of a freckle) are made on your body to help the radiation therapist position you correctly each day for treatment.

For prostate cancer, some oncologists may elect to place tiny markers within the prostate to aid in treatment setup. If this step is necessary, your oncologist will provide additional details on where and when the procedure will be performed.

Step 3: Treatment planning

After simulation is complete, your radiation oncologist will develop your personalized treatment plan, taking into account the location and type of cancer you have, your medical history, lab tests, and other factors—all to determine your best course of treatment. Typical treatment with radiation therapy will require you to come for treatment five days a week.

Step 4: Positioning for treatment

On your treatment days, your radiation therapist will position you on the radiation machine’s treatment couch. The couch will be adjusted so the radiation laser targets the small mark that was put on your skin during your simulation, ensuring you are properly aligned for treatment

Step 5: Start of treatment

The radiation is delivered by a machine called a linear accelerator, or linac. Most linacs have a gantry, which will move around you to deliver the radiation. You won’t see, hear, feel or smell the beam. Treatment sessions usually take approximately 15 minutes. Your first treatment session may be a little longer.

Step 6: Post-treatment and follow-up care

Every patient is different, but most patients can continue daily activities during treatment, despite side effects such as fatigue. After your final treatment, your radiation oncologist will schedule periodic follow-up appointments to monitor your progress and the results of your treatment.

Prostate cancer

Patient stories

Prostate cancer

Helpful resources for prostate cancer

Patient guide

Patient guide

Download the prostate cancer patient guide for more information about what to expect during treatment.

Questions to ask

Some important things you may want to find out from your doctor before undergoing treatment for prostate cancer.