Knowing what to expect during and after treatment can help you prepare and reduce any anxiety that you may be feeling. The following information has been put together to help you understand your radiation therapy treatment, and we hope to reduce any concerns you have. It does not replace discussion with your doctor, or the advice of your treatment team specific to your needs.
Radiation therapy may cause side effects. Everyone is different and you’re unlikely to experience all of the side effects listed.
As you progress through your treatment, radiation therapy can irritate the bladder lining and the urethra (the tube that you urinate and ejaculate through). Symptoms can include:
- The need to urinate more often, including overnight
- A sudden urge to empty your bladder
- A burning sensation when you urinate
- Change or reduction in your urine flow/stream and/or difficulty urinating
- Blood in the urine
Should any symptoms of bladder irritation occur, let your treatment team know as soon as possible as they can provide advice and treatment options to reduce your discomfort.
Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy. You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. This is a normal reaction to the radiation therapy and each person is affected in varying degrees. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage daily life.
With our current treatment techniques, it is uncommon for a skin reaction to occur when we are treating the prostate. However, the skin around the anus may become irritated if you experience frequent or loose bowel actions. Your treatment team will provide you with information on how to care for your skin during your treatment.
- During your treatment we advise that you wash your skin gently with warm water and non-perfumed soap
- Avoid exposing the treatment area to excessive temperature including heat packs, ice packs, electric blankets, saunas, hot spas or swimming in a chlorinated pool during your radiation therapy
Advise your treatment team if you are experiencing any skin changes. We can help you to manage them and provide support.
Radiation therapy can irritate the lower part of the bowel and you may experience some related symptoms towards the end of your treatment. Symptoms of irritation can include:
- An increase in the amount of bowel motions
- Softer/looser bowel motions
- Discomfort in passing a bowel motion
- Urge to use your bowels without passing a motion (tenesmus)
- Bleeding from the rectum (especially if you have haemorrhoids)
- Mucus discharge
Let your treatment team known if you experience any bowel changes or discomfort as they will be able to provide advice to help you manage. Dietary changes may be required and your treatment team will manage this.
It is important to stay hydrated each day by drinking two litres (8 glasses) of water (as long as you are not on a restricted fluid intake). If your temperature is elevated, you’re having trouble or discomfort passing urine, experience any blood in your urine or have abdominal pain, please promptly notify your treatment team.
The effect of radiation therapy to sexual function can be different for everyone.
You can continue sexual activity without causing harm to your partner. However, it is important to use contraception to avoid pregnancy during treatment. Radiation therapy can damage the nerves that control erections and this may affect your ability to maintain an erection or you may feel a burning sensation during ejaculation. Your desire to have a sexual relationship may also decrease during treatment. Please discuss with your treatment team if you would like more information.
Your radiation oncologist will talk to you about any long-term side effects that relate to your treatment.
Prescriptions and medications
Continue to take any prescribed medications. Please inform your nurse if you are taking vitamins, antioxidants or herbal supplements and if you start any new medications during your treatment.
If you have any questions regarding medications please discuss this with your radiation oncologist or nurse.
Bowel and bladder
Your bladder needs to be comfortably full and your lower bowel needs to be empty for your daily treatment.
Please follow the bladder and bowel preparation advice from your radiation therapy team.
You may continue your usual work and daily activities, but you may need to rest more than usual due to tiredness or fatigue during treatment. Unless otherwise advised, you can eat and drink normally. Alcohol consumption in moderation is permitted, and you can continue to take any prescribed medications.
We ask that you don’t deliberately wash them off as this may further irritate your skin. Your radiation therapists will re-apply them each day as required.
Reviews and follow up appointments will be discussed and organised by your treatment team prior to completing treatment.
Radiation therapy treatment keeps working even after you have stopped coming in for regular treatment. This means symptoms may get a little worse before they get better. Generally, side effects will settle within two to four weeks of finishing your treatment.
Radiation therapy does not make you radioactive and it is safe to be around others, including children and pregnant women during and after your treatment. There is no restriction on physical contact with others.