From Our 2010 Archives

Prostate Cancer Radiation Side Effects May Subside With Time

TUESDAY, March 16 (HealthDay News) -- The balance between using enough radiation to shield patients from prostate cancer's return while keeping side effects at bay may not be as tricky as once thought, new research shows.

That's because radiation-linked side effects appear to lessen with time. In fact, 10 years after treatment, prostate cancer patients didn't report suffering more severe side effects after doctors boosted their radiation to levels that made tumor recurrence 50 percent less likely, researchers say.

"A surprising number of men who reported symptoms that had bothered other patients surveyed before or soon after prostate cancer treatment described their current symptoms as normal," said Dr. James Talcott of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer, who led the study, in a statement.

The study examined two dose levels used for patients with early-stage prostate cancer. The higher doses -- 79 Gy -- lowered the risk of recurring tumors by half. Of 398 participants, 280 returned surveys.

"Symptoms that seem to bother other patients early in the course of their prostate cancer were regarded as normal by these patients nearly a decade after treatment," Talcott says. "As clinicians, we know that patients adapt to their situation and accept physical changes as the 'new normal.' When talking with prostate cancer patients, I've been surprised when, for example, a patient in his late 60s who became impotent two or three years after treatment would comment, 'Well it would have happened anyway to a man my age.'

"While these results need to be confirmed, since this is just one study, it's looking like we should tell patients that treatment side effects probably will bother them less than they originally fear because they are likely to adjust and experience less distress over time," he added. "We also may need to rethink our standard measures of treatment outcomes, which assume that the impact of symptoms on patients' quality of life does not change over time. While that may be true for pain, it doesn't seem to be true for these sorts of symptoms."

The study appears in the March 17 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

-- Randy Dotinga

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SOURCE: Massachusetts General Hospital, news release, March 16, 2010