Prostate Brachytherapy Side Effects

Posted on: October 11th, 2018
by: Jennifer

Brachytherapy is a procedure that uses radioactive isotopes, also known as seeds, to emit ionizing radiation directly into a malignant tumor. It is a quick, one-time out-patient procedure, taking about an hour.  One of the benefits of this prostate cancer treatment is that there are typically minimal side effects.  The most common side effect after brachytherapy is urinary dysfunction.

Urinary Function:
When looking at urinary side effects, incontinence rates are usually less than 1%1.   Urinary side effects consist of urinary frequency, urgency or burning on urination.  The temporary effects can last anywhere from a few weeks to several months. It depends on how your body tolerates the radiation and how much the prostate swells from the radiation. Therefore, urinary side effects are very individual.  If necessary, prescription medications are given to help alleviate the urinary symptoms.  The use of a catheter for a few days occurs in 5-8% of patients.  Any patient who chooses to have surgery, to remove the prostate, will have a catheter for two weeks postoperatively.

Sexual Function:
Approximately 6-25% of patients who receive brachytherapy will experience a decrease in sexual function2 versus approximately 50% of patients who undergo surgery3. Erectile medications and other aids have proven to be very effective.

Bowel Function:
When compared to external beam radiation, patients undergoing prostate brachytherapy experience much lower rates of bowel irritation with prostate brachytherapy4.   At Chicago Prostate Cancer Center we routinely do not see any bowel irritation.


  1. Feigenberg SJ, Lee WR, Desilvio ML, et al Health-related quality of life in men receiving prostate brachytherapy on RTOG 98-05. Int J Radiat Oncol Biol Phys. 2005 Jul 15;62(4):956-64.
  2. Rassweiler J, Hruza M, Teber D, et al: Laparoscopic and robotic assisted radical prostatectomy–critical analysis of the results. Eur Urol. 2006 Apr;49(4):612-24
  3. Bittner, N et al. Interstitial brachytherapy should be standard of care for treatment of high-risk prostate cancer. Oncology. August 2008, p. 995-1017.
  4. Quang et al. Technologic evolution in the treatment of prostate cancer. Oncology (21) 13. 1598-1603.