Frequently Asked Questions About Prostate Cancer and Seed Implants
What is prostate cancer and what causes it?
Cancer is the uncontrolled growth and spread of abnormal body cells. This growth is known as a tumor and can invade and destroy normal tissue. A common place for cancer to occur in males is in the prostate, a walnut-sized gland that provides the fluids necessary for ejaculation. The cause of prostate cancer is not known. What is of major concern is that even when locally advanced, the disease may have no symptoms. That is why many physicians now recommend that all men age forty and older have a yearly rectal exam in addition to PSA testing.
How do seed implants work? What are the benefits?
During the procedure, radioactive seeds are implanted directly into the prostate gland. Radiation from the seeds kills the cancer cells. By implanting the seeds, we can give the prostate a much higher dose of radiation without damaging surrounding tissue and organs. Also, the side effects are greatly reduced, recovery time is quicker and the procedure requires only a few hours stay in the surgery center.
Why doesn’t the radiation damage other organs?
One of the special features of radioactive seeds is that its radiation does not spread very far. In fact, one centimeter from the seed the radiation level drops off dramatically. This allows us to position the seeds so they do not have a major effect on neighboring tissue and organs.
Is it safe to have a source of radiation inside the body?
Another feature of the seeds is that they lose their radioactive power very quickly. It runs down like a battery. Approximately four months after the procedure, they no longer give off radiation. The seeds do not have to be removed after the procedure.
Is it painful?
This procedure is done on an outpatient basis using a general, spinal or local anesthetic. The whole procedure takes from 45 minutes to one hour. Patients are back to normal activities within a day or two.
What are the side effects?
With seed implants, impotence occurs in about 10 to 20 percent of the cases and incontinence is a true rarity. Viagra, and other similar medications, can reverse up to 80 percent of impotency caused by radiation. In contrast, when treatment requires surgical removal of the prostate gland, the man’s potency often suffers and up to 10 percent may experience some degree of incontinence.
Can anyone with prostate cancer have this treatment?
This treatment is used as the sole modality for those patients who have been diagnosed as having early to intermediate stage prostate cancer. For those with more advanced stages of the disease, seed implants are typically used in conjunction with other types of treatment (for example, a short course of IMRT radiation, hormones, etc.).