What can I expect after brachytherapy for prostate cancer?
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, it is important to consider the full range of treatment options – including those that may not have been mentioned to you initially by your hospital or treatment centre, such as brachytherapy. When caught early, prostate cancer has a good survival rate – around 475,000 men in the UK are either living with, or after, prostate cancer – so it is worth taking some time to understand about the potential medium- to long-term impact of your treatment on your lifestyle and be aware of what you can expect after brachytherapy for prostate cancer.
In choosing your treatment option, there are two main things to consider. The first is the success rate of the treatment given, in terms of both recurrence-free or overall survival (OS) – i.e. the cancer doesn’t return – and in terms of biochemical failure (PSA levels that don’t increase again over time). The second is the potential side-effects or implications of the treatment on your lifestyle.
There is a rich evidence base of success for a minimally invasive treatment: LDR brachytherapy (LDR-B). But what might you expect on a day-to-day basis after you’ve been treated with brachytherapy?
LDR brachytherapy has been an established treatment for prostate cancer for over two decades. It is typically a same-day procedure, though depending on the time of the treatment an overnight stay may be necessary. Recovery is quick and men normally return to normal activities within a week.
Some men can experience some pain or swelling in the perineum after brachytherapy. This is typically short-lived and can be relieved through applying ice packs and / or pain medication. Some men may also have some discomfort urinating and need to urinate more often. Again, most men find that these symptoms lessen after the first couple of weeks and medication can help. Some may also experience increased levels of tiredness in the short term post-treatment.
It is also to be noted that, while the low levels of radiation in the seeds are not harmful to others, as a precaution you may be asked to avoid close contact with children and pregnant women for a short time. Your doctor may advise you to wear a condom during sex.
Medium- to Long-Term Side Effects
Most men find LDR brachytherapy a highly effective treatment option that allows them to carry on with their everyday lives as well as (if not better than) they did before their prostate cancer diagnosis.
From men who enjoy walking; motorcycle riding; even ukulele playing, there is little to suggest that brachytherapy has an adverse reaction on men’s hobbies and their overall lifestyle.
The best evidence, though, is probably that which is anecdotal, so read some stories here of men who have been through – and recovered from – prostate cancer.
Of course, everyone is different and the side effects will vary from person to person. You may not have all of the effects mentioned – or, indeed any of them. Do tell your doctor or nurse if you have any problems at all. They can help you to find ways of controlling the effects.
After brachytherapy treatment for prostate cancer, you can expect to be monitored regularly by your hospital team and GP. Your follow-up appointments will usually start two or three months after treatment. You will then have appointments every three to six months. Around two years after your treatment, you may start to have appointments less often.
The vast majority of men see their PSA levels decrease significantly over time, to the point where it is statistically insignificant. LDR brachytherapy is proven to have a high success rate in terms of long-term, recurrence-free survival.
The majority of men diagnosed with prostate cancer will only get advice on a couple of treatment options, and it remains an unfortunate fact that the majority are recommended radical surgery – despite its known side effects. In contrast, LDR brachytherapy is a longstanding, proven treatment that is a highly viable option for many men.
It is, therefore, important to consider the potential side effects and outcomes of any cancer treatment, and it is always advisable to speak with your consultant or specialist nurse to get a full picture of what is available to you. We encourage all men and their families to discuss all their treatment options before deciding, however difficult it may seem.
Do remember, even if you haven’t been given brachytherapy as a treatment option for your prostate cancer at your local hospital, it is still worth discussing with your consultant or nurse. If it is a treatment you wish to progress with, there may be other centres nearby you can be referred to.