There are two main types of radiation therapy available for treating prostate cancer. External beam radiation therapy uses radiation from outside the body that is focused on the prostate. Brachytherapy is a form of radiation therapy where tiny radioactive seeds are implanted directly in the prostate. Often called “seed therapy,” these tiny radioactive implants give off radiation over a period of months to kill the prostate cancer cells. This treatment has the advantage of reducing radiation to the bladder and rectum.

Is this treatment commonly used?

While brachytherapy has been around for a number of years, recent advancements and a desire by men for more convenient prostate treatment options have led to brachytherapy being used more commonly today by physicians.

Between 1995 and 1999, the number of men who underwent brachytherapy at some point in their treatment increased from 4 to 36%. The percentage of men who currently undergo brachytherapy is likely even higher.

Are there any complications from brachytherapy?

The most common symptoms are urinary symptoms, such as urgency, frequency and pain with urination. These symptoms often are improved with medications and are short-lived. They often resolve after the radiation has been completely delivered. A small percentage of people may have long-term urinary problems such as urethral stricture.

Bowel symptoms, such as rectal urgency, bowel frequency, or bleeding in to the stools, are also possible. Some studies have found that these symptoms tend to get better over time, though. Sexual dysfunction is also a potential complication.

All of these complications can also be seen with radical prostatectomy or with external beam radiation therapy. Your physician will discuss in detail the complications and risks involved with brachytherapy before deciding if it is the best option for you.