Prostate Cancer | Treatment


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Risks and Benefits of Common Prostate Cancer Treatments

What are some of the treatment options for prostate cancer?

The treatment options for prostate cancer depend on your age, your overall health, and the grade and stage of your cancer. If you have prostate cancer, it is very important for your doctor to monitor the growth of your cancer carefully. Fast-growing tumors can quickly spread to other organs in the body, and this makes treatment much more difficult. But men who have slow-growing tumors may not need treatment for a long time, and some do not ever need treatment.

Common treatment options include the following:

  • Watchful waiting
  • Radiation therapy
  • Radical prostatectomy
  • Hormone therapy
  • Chemotherapy

What is watchful waiting?

During watchful waiting, you have no treatment, but you see your doctor often. During this time, your doctor will monitor the growth of your cancer through follow-up blood tests, rectal exams, and biopsies. If there's no sign the cancer is growing, you continue to have no treatment.

What is radiation therapy?

There are 2 types of radiation therapy. In one type, called external (beam) radiation therapy, radiation is given from a machine like an x-ray machine. In another type, called internal radiation therapy, radioactive pellets (called "seeds") are injected into the prostate gland. This is sometimes called seed therapy or brachytherapy (say: "brake-ee-ther-uh-pee"). Both types have about the same results in curing prostate cancer. Sometimes, both types are used together.

The external beam radiation therapy usually only takes about 10 minutes, but it is given 5 days a week over 6 to 8 weeks. Some people might find this time consuming. However, you don't need any anesthesia for this kind of treatment. The side effects are milder than the side effects that can occur with seed therapy.

Seed therapy can be done with just one hospital visit. For seed therapy, you’ll need to have anesthesia for a few minutes, but you should be able to go home right after the treatment. In seed therapy, higher doses of radiation can be put right into the cancer. You may feel more discomfort after this treatment.

What is radical prostatectomy?

Radical prostatectomy is a surgery to remove the whole prostate gland and the nearby lymph nodes. After the prostate gland is taken out through an incision, a catheter (a narrow rubber tube) is put through the penis into the bladder to carry urine out of the body until the area heals.

Other types of prostate surgery

There are several different types of prostate surgery. Some are less invasive, and each type has different risks and recovery rates. Your doctor will help decide which type of surgery is the best option for you.

Your doctor will talk to you about the kind of anesthesia used during surgery. You may be given general anesthesia, which puts you into a sleep-like state. Or an epidural or spinal anesthesia may be given instead. This kind of anesthesia blocks nerve routes from the spine and numbs the area.

What is the purpose of hormone therapy? Are there side effects?

The purpose of hormone therapy is to lower the level of male hormones, called androgens, which are produced mostly in the testicles. Androgens, such as testosterone, help the prostate tumor grow. Shots or pills can be given over a period of several months, or the testicles can be surgically removed. Once the testosterone is out of your body, the prostate cancer usually shrinks and new growth slows down. Hormone treatments are often used in combination with other kinds of prostate cancer treatments.

What happens after prostate cancer treatment?

Talk with your doctor about how often you will need follow-up PSA blood tests or other exams.


See a list of resources used in the development of this information.

Written by editorial staff

Reviewed/Updated: 08/12
Created: 01/99

Learn More About Prostate Cancer Treatment

Risks and Benefits of Common Prostate Cancer Treatments