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Side Effects of External Beam Radiation for Prostate Cancer

Radiation is a local cancer treatment option with local side effects in the area being treated. Because the prostate is surrounded by the bladder and the rectum, most of the side effects of external beam radiation are related to bladder and rectum irritation.

Bladder-related side effects can include

  • frequency or urgency with urination
  • burning with urination
  • getting up at night to urinate
  • blood in the urine (uncommon)

It is very rare that external beam radiation to the prostate will cause incontinence (loss of control of urine).

Rectal-related side effects can include

  • more frequent or loose stools
  • diarrhea and/or cramping
  • discomfort with bowel movements
  • urgent bowel movements
  • irritation of hemorrhoids
  • rectal bleeding

Irritation of the bladder and rectum from radiation usually goes away entirely, or is significantly less, several weeks after radiation therapy is over.

Impotence (inability to have an erection or intercourse) may occur after radiation, but it is avoided in about two-thirds of patients, and often helped with medication. Whether a patient will remain potent after external beam radiation therapy also depends on how potent he was before radiation.

Many patients notice fatigue/tiredness after external beam radiation therapy, which is probably caused by a number of factors, including traveling to treatments, nighttime urination and tissue healing. Your doctor can talk to you more about the side effects of external beam radiation therapy.