Your prostate cancer treatment options depend on several factors, such as how fast your cancer is growing, how much it has spread, your overall health, as well as the benefits and the potential side effects of the treatment.
Immediate treatment may not be necessary
For men diagnosed with a very early stage of prostate cancer, treatment may not be necessary right away. Some men may never need treatment. Instead, doctors sometimes recommend active surveillance.
In active surveillance, regular follow-up blood tests, rectal exams and possibly biopsies may be performed to monitor progression of your cancer. If tests show your cancer is progressing, you may opt for a prostate cancer treatment such as surgery or radiation.
Active surveillance may be an option for cancer that isn't causing symptoms, is expected to grow very slowly and is confined to a small area of the prostate. Active surveillance may also be considered for a man who has another serious health condition or an advanced age that makes cancer treatment more difficult.
Active surveillance carries a risk that the cancer may grow and spread between checkups, making it less likely to be cured.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered energy to kill cancer cells. Prostate cancer radiation therapy can be delivered in two ways:
- Radiation that comes from outside of your body (external beam radiation). During external beam radiation therapy, you lie on a table while a machine moves around your body, directing high-powered energy beams to your prostate cancer. You typically undergo external beam radiation treatments five days a week for several weeks. External beam radiation uses X-rays or protons to deliver the radiation.
- Radiation placed inside your body (brachytherapy). Brachytherapy involves placing many rice-sized radioactive seeds in your prostate tissue. The radioactive seeds deliver a low dose of radiation over a long period of time. Your doctor implants the radioactive seeds in your prostate using a needle guided by ultrasound images. The implanted seeds eventually stop giving off radiation and don't need to be removed.
Side effects of radiation therapy can include painful urination, frequent urination and urgent urination, as well as rectal symptoms, such as loose stools or pain when passing stools. Erectile dysfunction can also occur.
Hormone therapy is treatment to stop your body from producing the male hormone testosterone. Prostate cancer cells rely on testosterone to help them grow. Cutting off the supply of hormones may cause cancer cells to die or to grow more slowly. Hormone therapy options include:
- Medications that stop your body from producing testosterone. Medications known as luteinizing hormone-releasing hormone (LH-RH) agonists prevent the testicles from receiving messages to make testosterone. Drugs typically used in this type of hormone therapy include leuprolide (Lupron, Eligard), goserelin (Zoladex), triptorelin (Trelstar) and histrelin (Vantas).
- Medications that block testosterone from reaching cancer cells. Medications known as anti-androgens prevent testosterone from reaching your cancer cells. Examples include bicalutamide (Casodex), flutamide, and nilutamide (Nilandron). These drugs typically are given along with an LH-RH agonist or given before taking an LH-RH agonist.
- Surgery to remove the testicles (orchiectomy). Removing your testicles reduces testosterone levels in your body. The effectiveness of orchiectomy in lowering testosterone levels is similar to that of hormone therapy medications, but orchiectomy may lower testosterone levels more quickly.
Hormone therapy is used in men with advanced prostate cancer to shrink the cancer and slow the growth of tumors. In men with early-stage prostate cancer, hormone therapy may be used to shrink tumors before radiation therapy. This can make it more likely that radiation therapy will be successful.
Hormone therapy is sometimes used after surgery or radiation therapy to slow the growth of any cancer cells left behind.
Side effects of hormone therapy may include erectile dysfunction, hot flashes, loss of bone mass, reduced sex drive and weight gain.
Surgery to remove the prostate
Surgery for prostate cancer involves removing the prostate gland (radical prostatectomy), some surrounding tissue and a few lymph nodes. Ways the radical prostatectomy procedure can be performed include:
- Using a robot to assist with surgery. During robotic laparoscopic surgery, the instruments are attached to a mechanical device (robot) and inserted into your abdomen through small incisions. The surgeon sits at a console and uses hand controls to guide the robot to move the instruments. Using a robot during laparoscopic surgery may allow the surgeon to make more precise movements with surgical tools than is possible with traditional laparoscopic surgery.
- Making an incision in your abdomen. During retropubic surgery, the prostate gland is taken out through an incision in your lower abdomen. Compared with other types of prostate surgery, retropubic prostate surgery may carry a lower risk of nerve damage, which can lead to problems with bladder control and erections.
- Making an incision between your anus and scrotum. Perineal surgery involves making an incision between your anus and scrotum in order to access your prostate. The perineal approach to surgery may allow for quicker recovery times, but this technique makes removing the nearby lymph nodes and avoiding nerve damage more difficult.
- Laparoscopic prostatectomy. During a laparoscopic radical prostatectomy, the doctor performs surgery through small incisions in the abdomen with the assistance of a long, slender tube with a small camera on the end (laparoscope). This type of surgery is not commonly performed for prostate cancer in the U.S. anymore.
Discuss with your doctor which type of surgery is best for your specific situation.
Radical prostatectomy carries a risk of urinary incontinence and erectile dysfunction. Ask your doctor to explain the risks you may face based on your situation, the type of procedure you select, your age, your body type and your overall health.
Freezing prostate tissue
Cryosurgery or cryoablation involves freezing tissue to kill cancer cells. During cryosurgery for prostate cancer, small needles are inserted in the prostate using ultrasound images as guidance. A very cold gas is placed in the needles, which causes the surrounding tissue to freeze. A second gas is then placed in the needles to reheat the tissue. The cycles of freezing and thawing kill the cancer cells and some surrounding healthy tissue.
Initial attempts to use cryosurgery for prostate cancer resulted in high complication rates and unacceptable side effects. However, newer technologies have lowered complication rates, improved cancer control and made the procedure easier to tolerate. Cryosurgery may be an option for men who haven't been helped by radiation therapy.
Heating prostate tissue using ultrasound
High-intensity focused ultrasound treatment uses powerful sound waves to heat prostate tissue, causing cancer cells to die. High-intensity focused ultrasound is done by inserting a small probe in your rectum. The probe focuses ultrasound energy at precise points in your prostate. High-intensity focused ultrasound treatments are currently only available in clinical trials in the U.S.
Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill rapidly growing cells, including cancer cells. Chemotherapy can be administered through a vein in your arm, in pill form or both.
Chemotherapy may be a treatment option for men with prostate cancer that has spread to distant areas of their bodies. Chemotherapy may also be an option for cancers that don't respond to hormone therapy.
Multiple new chemotherapy drugs have recently been approved for treatment of progressive, metastatic prostate cancer.
A form of immunotherapy (Provenge) has been developed to treat advanced, recurrent prostate cancer. This treatment takes some of your own immune cells, genetically engineers them to fight prostate cancer, then injects the cells back into your body through a vein. Some men do respond to this therapy with some improvement in their cancer, but the treatment is very expensive and requires multiple visits for the treatment.
Aug. 13, 2013
- Prostate cancer. American Cancer Society. http://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostatecancer/detailedguide/index. Accessed May 30, 2013.
- Ilic D, et al. Screening for prostate cancer. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews. http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD004720.pub3/abstract. Accessed March 4, 2013.
- Prostate cancer screening. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/prostate/basic_info/screening.htm. Accessed March 4, 2013.
- Moyer VA. Screening for prostate cancer: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force
Recommendation Statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2012;157:120.
- Hoffman RM. Screening for prostate cancer. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed May 30, 2013.
- Prostate cancer. Urology Care Foundation. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=146. Accessed June 2, 2013.
- Advanced prostate cancer. Urology Care Foundation. http://www.urologyhealth.org/urology/index.cfm?article=149. Accessed June 2, 2013.
- Mohler J, et al. Prostate cancer — Clinical practice guidelines in oncology. The Journal of the National Comprehensive Cancer Network. 2010;8:162.
- Crawford ED. Chemoprevention strategies in prostate cancer. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 2, 2013.
- Moynihan TJ (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. June 9, 2013.
- Castle EP (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Scottsdale, AZ. June 17, 2013.