Radiation therapy involves aiming radiation at cancer cells to damage their DNA. It can be a highly effective prostate cancer treatment but can also cause side effects involving your bowel.
- External beam radiation therapy involves aiming radiation from an external machine at your prostate.
- Internal radiation involves placing radioactive pellets near your cancer.
In this article, we examine the possible short- and long-term bowel side effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Most radiation side effects begin within days to weeks after radiation treatment. Here are some of the potential short-term side effects.
Blood in stool after radiation for prostate cancer
The cells that line your rectum are extremely delicate and prone to radiation damage. Damage to these cells caused by radiation is called radiation proctitis.
Mucus in stool after radiotherapy for prostate cancer
Slimy mucus discharge in your stool is another possible symptom of radiation proctitis. Producing excess mucus is your body’s way of protecting the lining of your bowel from damage.
Constipation after prostate radiation
Damage to tissue in your bowels can slow the passage of stool through your digestive tract and lead to constipation.
Compared with people in the study who were treated with the hydrogel, those who were not had higher rates of gastrointestinal symptoms, including:
- fecal urgency
Diarrhea and cramping
Frequent urge to go to the bathroom
Irritation to the lining of your bowel may give you a persistent urge to have a bowel movement even when you don’t need to.
Hemorrhoids after prostate radiation
Flatulence and cramping after prostate radiation
Inflammation along the wall of your bowels may lead to constipation, which is associated with increased gas production and abdominal cramping.
Most side effects of pelvic radiation therapy are mild and go away within weeks. But this type of radiation therapy can also lead to serious symptoms such as:
The long-term bowel side effects are similar to the short-term effects but might not appear until long after treatment.
Chronic proctitis develops more than
- rectal bleeding
- a persistent feeling that you need to pass stool
- mucus discharge
People treated with radiation therapy for prostate cancer seem to have a small risk of developing future bowel cancer.
In a 2018 review of studies, researchers found that people with prostate cancer who were treated with radiation therapy had a 36% greater chance of developing bowel cancer than people who were not treated with radiation therapy.
Short-term side effects usually appear near the end of your radiation treatment and in the following several weeks. Most short-term side effects go away within a few weeks.
Long-term side effects of radiation therapy may not appear for weeks or years after your treatment. They can last months and may never fully go away.
Here are some of the treatment options for the bowel side effects of radiation therapy.
Home remedies and lifestyle strategies
You may be able to manage your symptoms by:
- avoiding spicy, fatty, and acidic foods
- eating soft and bland foods
- keeping a log of foods that make your symptoms worse
- using a condom to avoid infections if you engage in anal sex
Over-the-counter and prescription products that may ease your symptoms include:
- fiber supplements to help with constipation
- stool softeners
- suppository medications such as sucralfate and mesalamine
- steroids to reduce inflammation
- antidiarrheal medications
- oral anti-inflammatories
- pain relievers
Possible medical treatments include:
- embolization to stop bleeding
- blood transfusions
It’s important to communicate regularly with your healthcare team while undergoing treatment and to alert them of any new or worsening side effects.
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about the side effects of radiation therapy for prostate cancer.
Does radiation of the prostate affect bowel movements?
Radiation therapy can damage the cells that line your bowel, particularly your rectum. Damage to these cells can cause many side effects.
What bowel changes can occur after radiation therapy?
You may notice changes in your bowel habits after undergoing radiation therapy, such as:
- mucus or blood in your stool.
Radiation therapy can be a highly effective treatment for prostate cancer, but it can also cause many side effects that affect your bowel, such as diarrhea, constipation, and rectal bleeding.
Bowel symptoms can develop days or weeks after your treatment. Late side effects can develop months or years later. Radiation therapy may also slightly increase your risk of developing bowel cancer in the future.