Prostate Cancer External Beam Radiation Treatment (EBRT)

External beam radiation therapy is a form of radiotherapy which uses ionizing radiation to kill cancer cells. In the treatment of prostate cancer radiotherapy can be used to treat all stages of prostate cancer, can be focused as a salvage therapy for when surgery fails to cure the patient. The ionizing radiation upon being absorbed in tissue does damage to the DNA in cancer cells, increasing their probability of apoptosis. Although normal cells also are harmed in the process, they are able to repair the radiation damage, but not the cancer cells.

External beam radiation therapy (EBRT) makes use of a linear accelerator to produce the said high-energy x-rays and direct them in a beam towards the prostate, or the region in question where the tumor is meant to be located. EBRT generally has to be given to the patient over a period of several weeks, with the patient observing daily visits to a radiation therapy center.

There are side effects to this form of treatment though. Because it is difficult to conform the incident rays (or beam) or ionizing radiation to the shape of the contours of the tumor, more and more normal cells are affected by the treatment, and during the time span it takes them to heal, things could be really uncomfortable.

These side effects of EBRT typically occur a few weeks into treatment, causing diarrhea and mild rectal bleeding as a result of radiation proctitis. The side effects may also include potential urinary incontinence and impotence. The good news is merely that they symptoms tend to improve over time as the overall effect of the radiation exposure wares off of the body.

To aid in the spate of prostate cancer external beam radiation treatment, certain new types of radiation therapy are being realized. For instance, one new procedure called IMRT – intensity modulated radiation therapy – improves on the ability to conform radiation beams to the shape of the tumors, which is priceless for the patient and doctor alike. There are fewer side effects than traditional treatment, while the procedure also allows higher doses to be given to the prostate and seminal vesicles with less damage to the bladder and rectum.

There are other treatments that are springing up even at this time that use the same concept as EBRT. One such is proton therapy, also now preferred to EBRT because it can focus better on cancerous cells with fewer side effects and kill them; another is High Intensity Focused Ultrasound – HIFU, which uses sound waves instead to heat the cancerous tissue to death. External beam radiotherapy was the first, and remains still largely in use.

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