Side Effects Of Prostate Cancer Radiation Treatment

Medically Reviewed by Beth Hendrickson, RN

Doctor talking to older man with prostate cancer

Radiation treatment is often the first therapy in treating prostate cancer. It may be used throughout treatment if the cancer recurs or spreads. There are several side effects from radiation treatment for prostate cancer, including urinary problems, erectile dysfunction, and bowel problems. You may also experience fatigue, which usually improves with time, and lymphedema.

Urinary Problems

You may experience frequent urination, a burning feeling when urinating, or blood in your urine. After several years, urinary problems usually improve, but you may develop urinary incontinence, which is the accidental leaking of urine. A doctor can prescribe medicine to ease urinary problems and a physical therapist can provide exercises to improve bladder control.

Erectile Dysfunction

The older you are, the more likely you are to have erection problems. These often don't occur right after radiation therapy, but develop over time. Medicine can be prescribed to help these problems, or sometimes surgery.

Bowel Problems

The rectum may become irritated and lead to radiation proctitis. This could include burning, pain or diarrhea, but usually doesn't cause long-term problems. These problems can be eased by drinking plenty of fluids and eating easily digested foods.


Fluid could collect in the legs or genitals over time if radiation damages the lymph nodes around the prostate. It could cause swelling or pain. Lymphedema can usually be helped with physical therapy, but may not go away completely.

Side effects from radiation treatment for prostate cancer are often milder than surgical side effects. They could vary according to the type of radiation treatment being used. They're often remedied by a combination of diet, medicine, and physical therapy. Talking to your doctor and discussing treatment options beforehand can help minimize the severity of side effects. Making sure you know exactly what to expect can help ease anxiety and speed the recovery process.

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