Treatment options for prostate cancer
Surgery is usually only recommended after a thorough evaluation and discussion of all treatment options. A man considering surgery should be aware of the benefits and risks of the procedure.
- Surgery to remove the prostate gland is often recommended for treating stages A and B prostate cancers. This is a lengthy procedure and complications are possible. There are many different surgery options. See: Radical prostatectomy and Robotic surgery.
- Orchiectomy alters hormone production and may be recommended for cancer that has spread to other areas of the body. There may be some bruising and swelling right after surgery, but this will gradually go away. The loss of testosterone production may lead to problems with sexual function, osteoporosis (thinning of the bones), and loss of muscle mass.
Radiation therapy is used primarily to treat stage A, B, or C prostate cancers. Whether radiation is as good as prostate removal is unclear. The decision about which treatment to choose can be difficult. In patients whose health makes surgery too risky, radiation therapy is often the preferred alternative. Radiation therapy to the prostate gland is either external or internal:
- External beam radiation therapy is done in a radiation oncology center by specially trained radiation oncologists, usually on an outpatient basis. Before treatment, a therapist will mark the part of the body that is to be treated with a special pen. The radiation is delivered to the prostate gland using a device that looks like a normal x-ray machine. The treatment itself is generally painless. Side effects may include impotence, incontinence, appetite loss, fatigue, skin reactions such as redness and irritation, rectal burning or injury, diarrhea, inflamed bladder (cystitis), and blood in urine. External beam radiation therapy is usually done 5 days a week for 6 – 8 weeks.
- Prostate brachytherapy or internal radiation involves placing radioactive seeds inside you, directly into the prostate. A surgeon inserts small needles through the skin behind your scrotum to inject the seeds. The seeds are so small that you don’t feel them. They can be temporary or permanent. Because internal radiation therapy is directed to the prostate, it reduces damage to the tissues around the prostate. Prostate brachytherapy may be given for early, slow-growing prostate cancers. It also may be given with external beam radiation therapy for some patients with more advanced cancer. Side effects may include pain, swelling or bruising in your penis or scrotum, red-brown urine or semen, impotence, incontinence, and diarrhea.
- Radiation is sometimes used for pain relief when cancer has spread to the bone.
Medicines can be used to adjust the levels of testosterone. This is called hormonal manipulation. Because prostate tumors require testosterone to grow, reducing the testosterone level often works very well at preventing further growth and spread of the cancer. Hormone manipulation is mainly used to relieve symptoms in men whose cancer has spread. It may also be done by surgically removing the testes.
The drugs Lupron and Zoladex are also being used to treat advanced prostate cancer. These medicines block the production of testosterone. The procedure is often called chemical castration, because it has the same result as surgical removal of the testes. However, unlike surgery, it is reversible. The drugs must be given by injection, usually every 3 – 6 months. Possible side effects include nausea and vomiting, hot flashes, anemia, lethargy, osteoporosis, reduced sexual desire, and impotence.
Other medications used for hormonal therapy include androgen-blocking drugs (such as flutamide), which prevent testosterone from attaching to prostate cells. Possible side effects include erectile dysfunction, loss of sexual desire, liver problems, diarrhea, and enlarged breasts.
Chemotherapy is often used to treat prostate cancers that are resistant to hormonal treatments. An oncology specialist will usually recommend a single drug or a combination of drugs. Chemotherapy medications that may be used to treat prostate cancer include:
After the first round of chemotherapy, most men receive further doses on an outpatient basis at a clinic or physician’s office. Side effects depend on the drug, how often you take it, and for how long. Some of the side effects for the most commonly used prostate cancer chemotherapy drugs include:
- Blood clots
- Dry skin
- Fluid retention
- Hair loss
- Lowering of your white cells, red cells, or platelets
- Mouth sores
- Tingling or numbness in hands and feet
- Upset stomach
- Weight gain
You will be closely watched to make sure the cancer does not spread. This involves routine doctor check-ups. Monitoring may include:
- Serial PSA blood test (usually every 3 months to 1 year)
- Bone scan or CT scan to check whether the cancer has spread
- Complete blood count (CBC) to monitor for signs and symptoms of anemia
- Monitoring for other signs and symptoms, such as fatigue, weight loss, increased pain, decreased bowel and bladder function, and weakness