March 16, 2009 -- Question: What is proton beam radiation therapy, and when is it used to treat prostate cancer?
Answer: Proton beam radiation therapy is using a different particle, the proton, instead of the photon, which is what's used with other radiation techniques. Proton therapy is available in very few places in the United States. And it's really just a different way of delivering external beam radiation. A proton is external beam radiation.
The side effects of protons are very similar to that with photons. And these include irritation to the bladder and the rectum resulting in frequent urination, frequent bowl movements, tiredness, difficultly erections in the long term. Protons can be used for different stages of prostate cancer from early stage to higher staged disease. And it's just a different way of delivering a high dose of radiation.