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Treatments for early-stage prostate cancer

By The Health News Team | September 19, 2023
Supportive caregiver's hand on patient's shoulder

After skin cancer, the most common type of cancer among men in the U.S. is prostate cancer. It's estimated that about 1 in 8 men will get prostate cancer during their lifetime. However, prostate cancer is usually detected at an early stage before it has spread, is slow growing, and can be successfully treated.

Dr. David Hatcher, a Sharp Rees-Stealy urologist affiliated with Sharp Memorial Hospital, and Dr. Siavash Jabbari, a Sharp Community Medical Group radiation oncologist also affiliated with Sharp Memorial, explain the most common treatments for early-stage prostate cancer: surgery and radiation therapy.

Surgery to treat prostate cancer

In the past, the most common surgery to treat prostate cancer was an open radical prostatectomy, which involved making a cut between the belly button and pubic bone and opening the pelvis. Thanks to the availability of advanced technology, most surgeons now perform a robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy instead.

“With a robotic-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy, a surgeon makes small incisions in the abdomen and inserts special robotic instruments that are precisely controlled by the surgeon,” says Dr. Hatcher. “This makes for a much less invasive procedure, which can result in less pain, less blood loss, and a shorter hospitalization than open surgery.”

Side effects from surgery, such as urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction, can occur. And according to Dr. Hatcher, the recovery period can last anywhere from several weeks to several months or longer. “The duration is variable and depends on many factors, including the stage of the cancer, and the patient’s age and baseline function,” he says.

However, with appropriate management and time, most men can return to a normal lifestyle.

Radiation therapy to treat prostate cancer

External beam radiation therapy involves targeting the prostate with tightly focused beams of radiation. A course of radiation may be given daily, Monday through Friday, 15 minutes per day for 5 to 8 weeks, using a technique called intensity modulated radiation therapy (IMRT), which is a high-precision radiotherapy. Alternatively, treatment may be compressed into five treatments using stereotactic body radiotherapy (SBRT), which gives high-dose, highly precise radiation from different angles around the body. If there is concern the cancer may have spread to the pelvic lymph nodes, these can be targeted as well with IMRT.

External beam radiation is a noninvasive treatment, given on an outpatient basis. Dr. Jabbari says side effects from SBRT and IMRT can include temporary urinary and bowel symptoms, mild fatigue and potential erectile dysfunction. “However, radiation is usually well tolerated with a relatively low risks of complications,” he adds. 

Brachytherapy is a form of “internal” radiation, which involves a procedure with anesthesia in the operating room to implant radioactive seeds in the prostate. There is a low risk of complications, and it usually has similar side effects as external beam radiation.

Fortunately, with advances in both surgery and radiation therapy, the majority of men with early-stage prostate cancer can be cured with these treatments. For more advanced stages of prostate cancer, hormone treatment, chemotherapy and immunotherapy may be used in conjunction with, or instead of, surgery or radiation therapy.

Talk with your doctor about your concerns about prostate cancer. If prostate cancer is diagnosed, together, you can determine the most suitable treatment plan for your stage of cancer.

Learn more about prostate cancer treatment at Sharp HealthCare.

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