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Understanding Prostate Cancer

What You May Want to Know About Bowel Dysfunction During and After Prostate Cancer Treatment

(Read time: 5 minutes)
This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor.

In 2022, the American Cancer Society estimated nearly 270,000 new cases of prostate cancer in the U.S. To put that into perspective, about one in eight men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer during their lifetime. If detected early, localized prostate cancer is associated with a high survival rate.1

While some may be familiar with common treatments for prostate cancer — such as surgery, radiation therapy, and active surveillance — some may not know about potential side effects, like bowel dysfunction.2,3

Understanding these potential side effects and possible ways to mitigate them may help maintain your quality of life.

What is bowel dysfunction?

Bowel dysfunction is a broad term for a range of side effects that patients might experience during or after prostate cancer treatment. Such side effects can occur at varying levels of severity and may include:3,4

  • Diarrhea
  • Frequent stools
  • Fecal incontinence
  • Inability to control bowel movements
  • Rectal bleeding (in severe cases)

How can prostate cancer treatment cause bowel dysfunction?

During prostatectomy surgery, which is surgery to remove all or part of the prostate tissue, damage to the rectum is rare, affecting <2% to 3% of men. Bowel changes in the first few weeks after surgery are likely the result of the body adjusting to increased abdominal space with the loss of the prostate.3

Radiation therapy can cause bowel dysfunction – in fact, bowel dysfunction is more common following external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) than other therapies. This happens because EBRT blankets a large area with radiation, and since the rectum (or bowels) are next to the prostate, radiation targeted to the prostate may also affect the rectum.3,4

As the effects of radiation accumulate over time, bowel function tends to stay the same or deteriorate, rather than improve.3 According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, two years after radiation treatment for prostate cancer, 10% to 20% of men report persistent diarrhea a few times each week.3

Reducing the risk of bowel dysfunction should be a priority

Although radiation therapy for prostate cancer has a record of success,3–5 providing long-term survival in some cases, the potential for bowel dysfunction may be a factor in your decision when choosing a treatment pathway.

SpaceOAR™ Hydrogel is designed to help reduce prostate cancer radiation therapy side effects.6 Learn more.

There have been recent advances in prostate cancer treatment, such as radiation therapy techniques and dose planning strategies.3 A rectal spacer such as SpaceOAR™ Hydrogel may lessen the radiation impact to the rectum by pushing the prostate farther from the rectum.7–9

Learn more about the side effects of prostate cancer treatment and how SpaceOAR Hydrogel may help reduce side effects from radiation and maintain your quality of life.8

Find a Doctor Near You Who Offers SpaceOAR Hydrogel

Get started by entering your ZIP Code and click submit. You will be redirected to a map view showing you the nearest doctors to your location.
*Please note, there may be other doctors in your area who treat prostate cancer not listed here.

This material is for informational purposes only and not meant for medical diagnosis. This information does not constitute medical or legal advice, and Boston Scientific makes no representation regarding the medical benefits included in this information. Boston Scientific strongly recommends that you consult with your physician on all matters pertaining to your health.

  1. Key Statistics for Prostate Cancer—Prostate Cancer Facts. American Cancer Society. Accessed October 12, 2022.
  2. Prostate Cancer: Types of Treatment. Accessed October 12, 2022.
  3. Bowel Dysfunction after Prostate Cancer Treatment. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed January 6, 2023.
  4. Bladder and Bowel Dysfunction. Johns Hopkins Medicine. Accessed October 18, 2022.
  5. What every man should know about radiation therapy for prostate cancer. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. Accessed October 18, 2022.
  6. Data on file with Boston Scientific.
  7. Mariados N, Sylvester J, Shah D, et al. Hydrogel spacer prospective multicenter randomized controlled pivotal trial: Dosimetric and clinical effects of perirectal spacer application in men undergoing prostate image guided intensity modulated radiation therapy. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2015 Aug 1;92(5):971–7.
  8. Hamstra DA, Mariados N, Sylvester J, et al. Continued benefit to rectal separation for prostate radiation therapy: Final results of a phase III trial. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2017 Apr 1;97(5):976–85.
  9. Karsh LI, Gross ET, Pieczonka CM, et al. Absorbable hydrogel spacer use in prostate radiotherapy: A comprehensive review of phase 3 clinical trial published data. Urology. 2018 May; 115:39–44.

Caution: U.S. Federal law restricts this device to sale by or on the order of a physician.

SpaceOAR Hydrogel is intended to temporarily move the rectal wall away from the prostate during the course of radiotherapy treatment for prostate cancer, and in creating this space it is the intent of SpaceOAR Hydrogel to reduce the radiation dose affecting the rectum.

SpaceOAR Hydrogel contains polyethylene glycol (PEG). As with any medical treatment, there are some risks involved with the use of SpaceOAR Hydrogel. Potential complications associated with SpaceOAR Hydrogel include, but are not limited to: pain associated with injection, pain or discomfort from the hydrogel, site inflammation, infection (including abscess), inability to urinate, urgent need to urinate, constipation, rectal muscle spasm, damage to lining of rectum, ulcers, fistula (a hole between rectum and bladder, urethra, or skin below the scrotum), perforation (hole in prostate, bladder, urethra, rectum), necrosis (dead tissue), allergic reaction (local reaction or more severe reaction, such as anaphylaxis), embolism (blood vessel blockage is possible and may happen outside of the pelvis, potentially impacting vital organs or legs), fainting, and bleeding. Please talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits related to using SpaceOAR Hydrogel. If one or more of these complications occur, you may need medical treatment or surgery. URO-1288805-AA

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