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Understanding the Possible Side Effects of Radiotherapy for Prostate Cancer Patients

written by: BStone • edited by: Diana Cooper • updated: 6/3/2011

Side effects of prostate cancer radiation treatments can be difficult to deal with. Learn what they are and what can be done about them.

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    side effects of radiation therapy Prostate cancer is a serious form of cancer which forms in prostate gland tissue. Affecting mostly older men, there will be more than 200,000 new cases diagnosed in 2010 in the United States and 32,000 deaths. Radiation therapy is one of the popular treatment options for prostate cancer.

    What happens during treatment is that radiation is used to kill cancerous cells, thereby minimizing the spread of the cancer to healthy cells. While this treatment option can be very effective, it is not exactly a nurturing therapy. What are the side effects of radiation treatments? What should be expected from this type of therapy and how can these negative side effects be addressed?

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    Side Effects to the Skin

    The first side effects that you may notice will probably be changes to the skin. This is the effect of radiation exposure to the skin cells. The area where the radiation enters the body can become warm, red, and swollen. It can be somewhat tender to the touch. There may also be hair loss and decreased perspiration. Over time these radiation treatment side effects should go away. It is possible that for a year or more the skin will appear darkened, change in sensitivity, and it may thicken.

    To treat the side effects to the skin be sure to keep the area clean. Use a gentle, natural cleanser such as oatmeal soap, and lukewarm, not hot water. Do not rub the area while washing and be gentle when drying. While it might be tempting to put some sort of ointment or cream on the skin, only do so under the advisement of your oncologist. In fact, do everything you can to keep the area safe, clean, and unexposed. Avoid bandages, tight-fitting clothing, extreme temperatures, and direct sunlight.

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    Other Side Effects

    Other possible side effects of prostate radiation therapy include:

    • Erectile dysfunction
    • Blood in the urine
    • More frequent urination
    • Fatigue
    • Diarrhea

    What can be done about these problems? For impotence you can talk to your doctor about taking medication if you want. For the other side effects, especially fatigue, be sure to eat a nutrient-rich diet. Eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and lean proteins. Your body needs proper nutrition to recover from the radiation. Regular moderate exercise is also important. Even if you are tired be sure to get out for a walk in the fresh air several times a week. You can also talk to your doctor about taking supplements such as coenzyme Q10, kelp, and grape seed extract.

    Understanding the potential side effects of radiation treatments for prostate cancer is important before stepping into therapy. Knowing what to be prepared for and how to react can greatly reduce the stress of this ordeal.

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    References

    National Cancer Institute <http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/prostate>

    Radiology Info <http://www.radiologyinfo.org/en/info.cfm?pg=pros_cancer#part_four>

    Web MD <http://www.webmd.com/prostate-cancer/radiation-therapy>

    photo by: Exfordy (CC/flickr) <http://www.flickr.com/photos/exfordy/4147874448/sizes/m/in/photostream/>