Bizarre Prostate Radiation Side Effects
Prostate cancer is a disease where cells in the prostate gland, used to produce fluids for semen, start growing out of control. As they grow uncontrollably, these cells can form lumps called tumors that put pressure on the urethra and block it.
Although prostate cancer is the sixth leading cause of cancer death in American men, it rarely strikes younger men. The average diagnosis age is about 66. Prostate cancer spreads very slowly if at all, and most older men die from prostate cancer rather than from it. Stage 4 prostate cancer is when this cancer spreads away from the prostate and into the lymph nodes.
Prostate Cancer Risk Factors and Symptoms
- Age: Men who are 50 years or older are at the greatest risk to develop prostate cancer. This is because prostate cells contain prostate-specific antigen (PSA), which causes prostate cancer cells to grow more quickly. PSA is tested if there’s concern from an individual.
- Ethnicity: Ethnicity plays a part in the likelihood of developing prostate cancer. African-American men are 70% more likely to develop prostate cancer than white men and more than twice as likely to die from prostate cancer. The reason for this is unknown, but may be due in part to accessibility to prostate cancer screening.
- Genetics: About 5% of prostate cancers are associated with genetic syndromes such as familial prostate cancer, which runs in families such as the BRCA2 prostate cancer gene.
- Hormones: Men with prostate cancer tend to have lower levels of testosterone and higher levels of estrogen than men who don’t have prostate cancer, but the reason why is not fully understood. Some studies suggest a correlation between prostate cancer risk and blood transfusions from women to men, which could affect hormone levels. However, more research is needed to determine whether prostate cancer risk is increased with a large number of female blood donors.
- Smoking: Smoking may increase prostate tumor risk by increasing estrogen levels in the body.
Prostate cancer symptoms vary depending on the prostate cancer’s aggressiveness and grade (the higher the number, the more likely prostate cancer cells will spread). However, prostate cancer causes prostate gland enlargement, which puts pressure on the urethra and causes prostate cancer symptoms, so prostate cancer often causes urinary difficulties. Some common symptoms include:
- Blood in urine or semen
- One-sided pain in the pelvic area
- Difficulty starting urinating
- Weak stream
- Burning sensation during urination
- Dribbling at end of urination
- The need to get up frequently during the night to urinate
Diagnosing Prostate Cancer
There are several ways to diagnose prostate cancer, but the most common is the prostate-specific antigen or PSA testing. PSA testing measures the PSA levels in a man’s blood. PSA is a protein produced by the prostate gland, and men with prostate cancer tend to have higher PSA levels in their blood than men without prostate cancer.
Prostate cancer can also be diagnosed with a digital rectal exam (DRE). During a DRE, the doctor will insert a gloved finger into the rectum, feeling for lumps or abnormalities in the prostate.
If a person has an abnormal PSA test or DRE, their doctor may recommend a biopsy to confirm the diagnosis. A biopsy is a procedure in which a small tissue sample is removed from the prostate and examined for cancer cells.
Prostate Cancer Treatment
There are a few different prostate cancer treatment options. A doctor will likely suggest a prostatectomy, radiation therapy, or prostate cancer treatment with medication. A prostatectomy is a surgery to remove the prostate gland and may be used to treat prostate cancer if it has not spread too far. Radiation treatment for prostate cancer uses high-energy X-rays from a machine to damage prostate cancer cells.
Doctors consider the prostate cancer grade, location, type of prostate cancer cells, prostatectomy vs. radiation for prostate cancer treatment options, age, and general health. For many men who have a prostate tumor confined to the prostate gland with low-to-moderate prostate cancer grades, treatment with medication may be effective. For treatment with medications, the patient will take medications for either four months or one year to shrink prostate tumors to be easier to treat. Individuals with stage 4 prostate cancer may find the treatment more complex and need to be more aggressive.
Prostate Radiation Side Effects
Research studies have shown that prostate radiation side effects include urinary incontinence, infections, impotence, bowel problems, and rectal injury.
These prostate radiation side effects are most common with external beam radiation therapy, though prostate radiation treatment has the potential to cause side effects in other parts of the body. Radiation can damage tissues and organs close to where it’s targeted, which is one reason why prostate radiation side effects are possible.
- Urinary Incontinence (UI): UI is one of the most common prostate radiation side effects. For men with prostate cancer receiving external beam radiation therapy, UI occurs in about 20% to 30% of patients. As well, prostate radiation side effects usually increase with prostate cancer grade and prostate cancer type. Types of UI include:
- Urge incontinence (UI due to bladder spasms)
- Leakage when coughing, sneezing, laughing, or straining
- No warning before urine flows or leaks
- Frequent urge to urinate
Prostate radiation side effects vary depending on the type of radiation therapy a patient receives, but other common prostate cancer side effects include the following:
- Dry skin and sore skin around the prostate gland
- Burning sensation in pelvic area or penis.
- Damage to the rectum
- Erectile Dysfunction