What You need to Know about Prostate Cancer Treatment Options: Part I – Bowel Dysfunction

If detected early enough, localized prostate cancer is generally associated with a high survival rate with treatment options including surgery, radiation therapy, and active surveillance. It is important to research and understand complications that may be associated with treatments before making any decisions with your medical team. Providing the right tools and resources for patients and caregivers is something professionals in the medical field take very seriously. With this three-part series, we hope to share some insight on possible treatment side effects in a series of posts, starting with one of the more common complications – bowel dysfunction.

Bowel dysfunction includes different side effects that patients might experience at varying levels of significance. These include a range of complications from rectal bleeding ,diarrhea and frequent stools to fecal incontinence, the inability to control bowel movements, or even rectal bleeding. Not all treatments for prostate cancer will result in bowel problems, but it is important to note this can be common during or following radiation therapy.

Although precision in Radiotherapy continues to improve, there is always a risk of damaging healthy cells nearby. The rectum and prostate are located directly next to each other, and as a result the rectum can inadvertently receive doses of radiation during prostate cancer treatment. During treatment, radiation can cause the sensitive lining of the bowel to become inflamed, and some patients might experience bleeding and rectal pain months or years after treatment has taken place. These symptoms are sometimes related to damaged scar tissue which has developed in the rectum, which tears and bleeds with bowel movements.

If present, these side effects can be temporary, but some men have symptoms that persist for years and may require treatment or, in rare circumstances, surgery to improve bowel function. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, bowel function tends to remain the same or deteriorate rather than improve over time as the effects of radiation accumulate. After two years, about 10-20 percent of men reported having persistent diarrhea a few times each week, while rectal bleeding increased steadily from 5 percent immediately after treatment to 25 percent after two years.

Radiation therapy has an excellent record of success, providing long-term survival in many cases. With prostate cancer survivors living longer, it is most imperative to reduce the risk of injury to the healthy organs which surround the prostate so that we can work towards providing the highest long-term quality of life for patients.