- SBRT is a type of radiation therapy that’s become common in the last two decades for treating prostate cancer.
- SBRT sends high amounts of radiation to a specific area of the body to destroy cancer cells.
- It can be a faster and more efficient form of radiation therapy than conventional treatments for prostate cancer.
If you’ve received a prostate cancer diagnosis, there are several treatment options that may be available to you. Stereotactic body radiation therapy (SBRT) is one of them.
Other potential treatments your healthcare professional might recommend include close monitoring, surgery, and conventional radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy.
SBRT is an effective, short-term radiation treatment for prostate cancer. Healthcare professionals have used SBRT since 2000, so it’s a relatively new treatment compared with conventional radiation therapy.
It uses advanced computer technology to deliver concentrated levels of radiation to affected regions of the prostate gland.
SBRT requires only 1 to 2 weeks of treatment. In contrast, conventional radiation therapy can last several months.
Your doctor will present various treatment options for you based on your condition and health history. They may recommend SBRT or another type of treatment.
Healthline has partnered with Northwell Health Cancer Institute to answer some frequently asked questions about SBRT.
SBRT is a type of radiotherapy that healthcare professionals can use to treat prostate cancer. This method sends high-energy, focused beams of radiation into the prostate, allowing a highly targeted delivery of radiation.
This concentrated treatment allows someone to receive radiotherapy for a much shorter amount of time than they would with conventional radiotherapy. Prostate cancer responds well to SBRT, as do some other tumors.
SBRT is an outpatient treatment, which means that you don’t need to stay at the treatment facility overnight to receive it. You can simply drop in and leave the same day.
You can complete it in five sessions over the course of a week or two. Your healthcare professional may recommend it as an option if you have low- or intermediate-risk prostate cancer.
Some of the machines that deliver SBRT have trademarked names. Your treatment may be referred to as:
- Gamma Knife
Some of these names can be misleading because the treatment doesn’t involve an incision.
In some cases, SBRT may be preferable to other options because it’s quick and minimally invasive. For example, brachytherapy for prostate cancer requires general anesthesia and a hospital admission. It also comes with other risks that SBRT doesn’t, including infection and bleeding.
However, a healthcare professional may recommend therapies like brachytherapy over SBRT in some cases.
Conventional radiotherapy can take up to 9 weeks. With this approach, you receive low doses of radiation on a daily basis. These low doses are necessary to avoid affecting your bladder or rectum.
Healthcare professionals can complete SBRT more quickly than conventional therapy because the intense, focused beams of radiation only target the prostate, not the areas around it. Thus, the bladder and rectum aren’t exposed to it.
SBRT involves a shorter treatment period than conventional radiotherapy. This may be more convenient if you keep a busy schedule or find it hard to come into the hospital regularly.
“SBRT is a great option, but it is important that patients understand that there are other options based on the type of prostate cancer they have and that SBRT may not be the best approach for them,” says Dr. Louis Potters, chair of radiation medicine and deputy physician-in-chief of Northwell Health Cancer Institute, one of the largest cancer programs in the New York metropolitan area.
“This is a key factor, so that patients do not get their expectations set for a particular treatment but rather what is the best treatment for them.”
Northwell Health offers a comprehensive approach to prostate cancer, with treatments including SBRT.
SBRT doesn’t hurt. In fact, you don’t feel it. Invisible rays of radiation penetrate your body for a short period of time. Sessions run about 15 minutes each.
Prior to each session, the technician administering treatment will make sure you’re ready to receive SBRT. You may need to have a full bladder and empty bowels.
In the days leading up to the treatment, you may have a procedure for inserting markers into your prostate. These will help the technician and computer identify the precise area to treat during radiation.
Your healthcare professional may have you undergo several types of imaging before, during, and after treatment so they can examine your prostate.
These imaging technologies are painless and may include:
- CT scans
- cone-beam CT technology
- MRI scans
SBRT is an outpatient procedure, and there aren’t many immediate side effects. You may even be able to drive yourself to and from treatment because SBRT is minimally invasive.
However, side effects of SBRT you may experience during or soon after treatment include:
- fatigue that can last about a week following your final treatment
- the need to urinate more frequently
Longer-term side effects you might experience over the months and years after SBRT may be similar to the side effects of other forms of prostate cancer treatment. These include:
- difficulty urinating or passing bowel movements
- urinary incontinence
- erectile dysfunction
One study on SBRT found that doses of radiation of 35 to 36.25 gray were effective and safe with low levels of late toxicity. Late toxicity refers to side effects that happen months or years after the radiation treatment.
Another study found that when people received SBRT for low- or intermediate-level prostate cancer, they tolerated it well. Some experienced toxicity and decreased quality of life to a limited degree.
To learn more, ask your healthcare professional about potential side effects of SBRT in your particular situation.
In some cases, SBRT can be a more effective form of treatment for prostate cancer than conventional radiation or surgery.
A 5-year study found that those who received SBRT for prostate cancer had a 94 percent survival rate at 3 years and 89.7 percent survival rate at 5 years. No deaths appeared to be related to prostate cancer.
That said, whether SBRT will be an effective treatment for you depends on your particular circumstances.
You’ll need to discuss repeat treatments of SBRT with your doctor to determine whether you’re a candidate for them.
These people had received conventional radiation therapy, not SBRT, as their first treatment before the prostate cancer came back.
There are several reasons you may not be a good candidate for SBRT, including the following:
- Your prostate cancer is still very mild, and your healthcare team opts to monitor it without treatment.
- Your doctor recommends a different treatment method based on the severity of your prostate cancer as well as other existing health conditions.
- You have high-risk prostate cancer that needs a different type of treatment.
SBRT is an effective short-term radiation treatment for prostate cancer. It requires only a few weeks of treatment and has a proven success rate.
You may have fewer side effects with SBRT than conventional radiation.
If you’re interested in getting SBRT, talk with your doctor about whether this treatment is right for you.