Gov. Jerry Brown's radiation treatment: Few side effects expected

December 13, 2012 | by Shawn Le

Gov. Jerry Brown announced Wednesday that he would be undergoing radiation therapy for early-stage prostate cancer – but that treatment would not prevent him from carrying out his daily duties.

Such confidence may seem surprising, given the potential side effects to radiation treatment for cancer – significant nausea, fatigue and hair loss. But those side effects don't necessarily apply in this case.

Slide of prostate cancer Radiation therapy for prostate cancer doesn't have to be grueling, one City of Hope expert says. California Gov. Jerry Brown says he'll keep working during his treatment.

There are two basic radiation therapy options for prostate cancer treatment. One uses external beam radiation; the other uses radioactive seeds implanted in the prostate gland, also known as brachytherapy.

Brown's office said in a statement that the governor would undergo "conventional radiotherapy." Expert consensus, based on available information, was that Brown would be treated with external beam radiation.

Jeffrey Wong, M.D., chair of City of Hope's Department of Radiation Oncology, says that radiation therapy is often the main treatment option for early-stage prostate cancer – and the first choice for many patients.

"Both options focus curative doses of radiation to the prostate gland while minimizing exposure to the surrounding tissue," said Wong. Less damage to healthy tissue minimizes any potential side effects.

The standard regimen with external beam radiation is treatment once a day (five times a week) for seven to eight weeks. "Today's approach uses the latest technology to accurately aim tiny, focused beams of radiation in measured doses to the prostate gland itself," said Wong. "Some cancer centers are investigating a shorter course of treatment that runs only five to six weeks."

With brachytherapy, the patient undergoes one two-hour procedure in which the radioactive seeds are placed inside the prostate gland. "The seeds are made to shed a limited amount of radiation that is confined to the prostate," Wong said. "The radioactivity decays within six months. We can plant the seeds and leave them there."

"Typically, patients experience few if any side effects from radiation therapy for prostate cancer," said Wong. "Those who do report irritation in their urinary tract or rectal area say the effects are mild and do not keep them from continuing their daily routines."

Wong recommends that prostate cancer patients consult a radiation oncologist, along with a surgeon and medical oncologist, to understand all of treatment options available to them, so they can make a fully informed choice that's right for them.

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