External beam radiotherapy is used both to treat cancer and to relieve pain when the cancer has spread to the bones (see ‘Pain relief’). It can also be used together with other therapies such as hormone therapy. Here we discuss men’s experience of radiotherapy as a treatment for prostate cancer.
Radiotherapy as a means of cure is usually given five days a week, for over 4-7 weeks. Some of the men who opted for radiotherapy described their experiences in the waiting room at the hospital while waiting for a diagnosis, and for treatment.
Comments that his only inconvenience was radiotherapy required so much time.
Expresses his frustration with the worry caused by delay in the waiting room.
Explains how efficient he found the treatment.
Some described delays and frustration, while for others clinics ran more smoothly. All reported that the radiotherapy treatment itself was well managed, and painless.
Conformal radiotherapy and IMRT
There are two common types of external beam radiotherapy:
- 3-dimensional conformal radiotherapy (3D-CRT), and
- intensity modulated radiotherapy (IMRT).
In 3D- CRT a computed tomography scan (CT scan) of the prostate produces an image, which is fed into a computer. This produces a 3D image of the prostate and the radioactive beams can then be emitted through a special fitment added to the radiotherapy machine which carefully shapes the radiation beams to the exact size and shape of the prostate gland, thus reducing damage to the surrounding normal tissue and organs. This reduces the side effects of radiotherapy treatment and can allow higher doses to be given, which may be more effective.
IMRT is a more complex type of CRT and allows the radiotherapist to vary the dose of radiation given to different parts of the tumour and surrounding tissue. It is not yet known whether IMRT is better than CRT.
Describes the process and considers that the treatment is painless.
Explains that the operation is very technical and precise.
Concludes that radiotherapy is a relatively straightforward procedure.
Describes the treatment and considers it is not invasive or painful.
However, others thought that psychological aspects were neglected and they felt as though they were on a production line while having radiotherapy. Most of the men we interviewed experienced side effects either during or after treatment (see ‘Side effects of treatments’).