Possible risks and side effects of brachytherapy
Radiation precautions: If you get permanent (LDR) brachytherapy, the seeds will give off small amounts of radiation for several weeks or months. Even though the radiation doesn’t travel far, your doctor may advise you to stay away from pregnant women and small children during this time. If you plan on traveling, you might want to get a doctor’s note regarding your treatment, as low levels of radiation can sometimes be picked up by detection systems at airports
There is also a small risk that some of the seeds might move (migrate). You may be asked to strain your urine for the first week or so to catch any seeds that might come out. You may be asked to take other precautions as well, such as wearing a condom during sex. Be sure to follow any instructions your doctor gives you. There have also been reports of the seeds moving through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the lungs. As far as doctors can tell, this is uncommon and doesn’t seem to cause any ill effects.
Radiation precautions aren’t needed after HDR brachytherapy, because the radiation doesn’t stay in the body after treatment.
Bowel problems: Brachytherapy can sometimes irritate the rectum and cause a condition called radiation proctitis. Bowel problems such as rectal pain, burning, and/or diarrhea (sometimes with bleeding) can occur, but serious long-term problems are uncommon.
Urinary problems: Severe urinary incontinence (trouble controlling urine) is not a common side effect. But some men have problems with frequent urination or other symptoms due to irritation of the urethra, the tube that drains urine from the bladder. This tends to be worse in the weeks after treatment and to gradually get better. Rarely, the urethra may actually close off (known as a urethral stricture) and need to be opened with a catheter or surgery.
Erection problems: Some studies have found rates of erection problems to be lower after brachytherapy, but other studies have found that the rates were no lower than with external beam radiation or surgery. The younger you are and the better your sexual function before treatment, the more likely you will be to regain function after treatment.
Erection problems can often be helped by treatments such as those listed in the surgery section, including medicines. For more about coping with erection problems and other sexuality issues, see Sexuality for the Man With Cancer.
To learn more about radiation therapy, see the Radiation Therapy section of our website.
Last Medical Review: 02/16/2016
Last Revised: 03/11/2016