Traditionally, men who chose radiation therapy for prostate cancer have had to undergo radiation for weeks or even months. But now, in some cases, it can be completed in less than a week.

Prostate cancer is one of the most common types of cancer in men. It occurs in the prostate, a small gland in a biological male’s lower abdomen. The prostate gland produces semen.

Prostate cancer can be life threatening, especially if it has spread to other parts of the body. But there are different effective treatment options. One of them is radiation therapy, which uses high energy waves to damage or destroy cancer cells.

Traditionally, people who chose radiation therapy to treat prostate cancer have had to undergo radiation 5 days per week for many weeks or even months.

Now, though, healthcare professionals can safely administer a specific type of treatment, called external beam radiation therapy (EBRT), for only 5 days to people with early prostate cancer.

Let’s take a closer look at 5-day radiation for prostate cancer — how it works, its benefits and risks, what to expect from the procedure, and other helpful information.

EBRT is the most common type of radiation therapy for prostate cancer. It uses a special machine that focuses high energy rays or particles from outside your body into the tumor.

X-rays are the most common source of energy used in EBRT. But it can also be given as particle (proton or neutron) or electron beams.

Radiation technology allows for a high level of precision during treatment. It focuses the beam on only the affected tissue. This maximizes the level of radiation reaching the cancer while minimizing the effect of the radiation on healthy organs.

Other types of traditional therapies used in prostate cancer include:

  • brachytherapy, or internal radiation therapy
  • radiopharmaceuticals and radionuclides, which are medications that radiation and are injected into your body

The 5-day radiation for prostate cancer method uses a type of EBRT called ultrahypofractionated radiation, also known as stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT). It uses ultra high dose external radiation.

According to a 2018 guideline for doctors, males with early-stage prostate cancer can safely receive ultrahypofractionated radiation. This allows them to complete the treatment course in just 5 days.

Another alternative to traditional EBRT is hypofractionated radiation. It uses a higher than usual dosage for radiation, but not as high as ultrahypofractionated radiation. Males opting to receive hypofractionated radiation can expect to complete treatment in 4 to 5 weeks, as opposed to 8 to 9 weeks with conventional EBRT.

Radiation is an effective treatment option for prostate cancer. It has the same cure rate as surgery without the risks and side effects associated with surgical procedures.

Some doctors believe that hypofractionated and ultrahypofractionated radiation may be even more effective than conventional radiation. This is due, at least in part, to the use of advanced technology, which helps physicists calculate the right dose of radiation and precisely position it on the affected region of the body.

Although hypofractionated and ultrahypofractionated radiation treatments are usually safer than surgery, they can cause some (usually minor) side effects. These include:

  • increased frequency of urination or bowel movements
  • fatigue

These side effects usually do not last longer than 1 or 2 weeks.

There are also some long-term risks associated with this treatment. They include:

However, these risks are typical of most prostate cancer treatments. A 2019 study that analyzed erectile dysfunction in people treated with ultrahypofractionated radiation found that it affects less than 55% of sexually active people after around 5 years.

Before the procedure, your doctor might order imaging studies so they can examine your prostate.

If you’re scheduled to receive hypofractionated and ultrahypofractionated radiation, you may also have a procedure to insert markers into your prostate. These will help your technician identify the precise area on which to focus the radiation beam.

Once the markers are inserted, a doctor called a radiation oncologist will conduct a simulation. This step determines the best positioning of your body to align it with the radiation beams. Your body will be held very tightly and still by an immobilization device.

You will need to maintain a full bladder and empty bowels before the simulation and each treatment. This prevents these organs from shifting the position of your prostate.

Here’s what to expect during and right after your procedure.

During the procedure

Hypofractionated and ultrahypofractionated radiation therapies are most commonly performed in an outpatient setting. It usually takes between 15 and 60 minutes for each treatment. Children may receive general anesthesia, but adults are typically awake.

During the procedure, the radiation machine will move and rotate around the target to deliver radiation beams from different angles.

Radiation therapy does not hurt. It feels similar to getting an X-ray.

After the procedure

You’ll be able to eat and drink right after the procedure. If needed, your healthcare team will give you medications for pain that you may feel afterward.

Most people go home the same day and get back to their usual activities within 1 to 2 days.

The 5-day radiation method is a new treatment type for prostate cancer. It’s performed using ultrahypofractionated radiation (also known as SBRT).

The advantages of ultrahypofractionated radiation include:

  • effectiveness
  • convenience
  • safety
  • a quick turnaround

However, it does have some side effects and risks, including erectile dysfunction.

The procedure is quick and painless. Most people can return to their usual activities within a couple of days.