What is radiation for prostate cancer?

For men diagnosed with prostate cancer, there are several treatment options available. Depending on the stage of the cancer, radiation therapy might be used.

Section 1

How radiation therapy works

Radiation therapy uses energy beams to destroy cancer cells and stop them from spreading.

With technological advances in radiation therapy, treatment planning is more accurate and more precise than ever before. That said, the high-energy beams can potentially affect healthy tissue near the prostate and result in side effects of radiation for prostate cancer. Due to its close proximity to the prostate, the rectum is most at risk for radiation beam exposure. Long-term side effects include bowel problems such as rectal swelling, pain, hemorrhoids, and/or diarrhea. Barrigel rectal spacer helps protect the rectum and surrounding healthy tissue against unwanted radiation exposure.1

Section 2

Types of radiation therapy

There are two main types of radiation therapy:


External beam radiation therapy (EBRT): EBRT directs high-energy beams, such as X-rays or protons, by a machine outside of the body.

The goal of EBRT is to kill the cancer cells while sparing the surrounding healthy tissue as much as possible. Advancements in EBRT techniques focus the radiation more precisely on the tumor, allowing doctors to give higher doses of radiation while reducing the radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue. Damage to healthy tissue can result in radiation side effects.

Graphic of a person lying down, undergoing external beam radiation therapy (EBRT) for prostate cancer

Internal radiation (brachytherapy): Brachytherapy is a form of radiotherapy where the radioactive source is placed inside or next to the area requiring treatment. In some cases, small radioactive material, pellets, or seeds, each about the size of a grain of rice, are placed directly into your prostate to kill the cancer cells and shrink tumors. This form of brachytherapy allows your doctor to use a higher total dose of radiation to treat a smaller area in less time.

Another type of brachytherapy involves inserting catheters to deliver radioactive material for relatively short periods of time. Brachytherapy by itself is more commonly used in men with early-stage prostate cancer that is relatively slow growing (low-grade). Brachytherapy combined with EBRT can be an option for men with a higher risk of the cancer spreading outside of the prostate.

Graphic of a person with a detailed view of small radioactive seeds used in brachytherapy to treat prostate cancer
Section 3

Other forms of prostate cancer treatment

Radiation therapy is only one option for prostate cancer treatment.

Your treatment options will vary depending on a variety of factors including stage and grade of your cancer, your age and expected life span, other serious health conditions you have, your feelings about treating cancer immediately, the likelihood that treatment will cure your cancer, and your feelings about the possible side effects from each treatment.2 See additional prostate cancer patient resources available to you and your loved ones to help gain a deeper understanding of each prostate cancer treatment type.

It is important to discuss all treatment options, their benefits, risks and potential side effects with your doctor and make the decision that’s right for you.

Find a Doctor

Find a doctor near you who offers the Barrigel sculptable rectal spacer for prostate cancer radiation therapy.

Man seated in chair using Barrigel Physician Locator on his laptop
  1. Mariados NF, Orio PF, Schiffman Z, et al. Hyaluronic acid spacer for hypofractionated prostate radiation therapy: a randomized clinical trial. JAMA Oncol. 2023;e1-e8.
  2. American Cancer Society. Treating Prostate Cancer. www.cancer.org. Accessed: August 1, 2021. https://www.cancer.org/cancer/prostate-cancer/treating.html.