Q: I am 86 years of age. Almost ten years ago I underwent the 39 session radiation treatment for prostate cancer which was successful. After the treatment, however, I began having problems with bowel control due to radiation burn. I understand that was “par for the course”.
This problem has gradually increased over the years and has become quite aggravating. At my age, is there anything that can be done to alleviate this condition?
A: For those readers who may not fully understand the condition, prostate cancer begins in the small walnut-shaped gland of men that is responsible for producing seminal fluid that transports and nourishes sperm. Prostate cancer is relatively common in men. Some forms of prostate cancer grow slowly, remain within the prostate itself and may not even require any treatment, while others can be more aggressive, spread quickly and require positive therapy. Symptoms include blood in the semen and/or urine, a diminished flow of urine, bone pain, and edema of the lower extremities.
While it is not known what actually causes prostate cancer, what is known is that the mutation of some cells within the prostate can become abnormal; those cells grow and divide rapidly. They then form a tumor that can invade surrounding tissue. Once the cancer has spread to other areas of the body, a condition known as metastases, it can be controlled but cannot be completely cured. A person’s risk of this occurring is increased if there is a family history of the disorder, being African American, obese, and with advanced age.
Many physicians include laboratory testing as part of a man’s routine medical examination. A test known as a PSA, (prostate specific antigen) is generally done on an routine annual basis. There is some controversy over its screening use because, although men are diagnosed earlier, early treatment is fraught with complications and doesn’t significantly save more lives. Elevated numbers or abnormalities detected on digital examination may require confirmation through ultrasound or biopsy of prostate tissue. When a diagnosis of cancer has been made, a physician will designate a stage between I and IV. The first designates cancer in its earliest stage. The second indicates the cancer is small but considered aggressive or may have grown to involve both sides of the prostate. The third indicates spread of the disease to nearby tissues. The fourth signifies metastases.
One form of treatment known as external beam radiation is given five days a week for several weeks. Another form known as brachytherapy involves placing radioactive seeds in the prostate tissue. Side effects can include loose stool, erectile dysfunction, painful/frequent/urgent urges to urinate, and as you pointed out, “radiation burn” which is tissue damage. The sun’s damaging UV rays are an example of one form of radiation burn. You are/were in a catch 22 situation here. You needed to arrest the cancer; however, your physician may have failed to fully inform you of the potential side effects of radiation, no matter how remote they were. And, this all happened ten years ago. Many individuals will indicate they are grateful to have had the treatments because they are alive and that’s a difficult thing to come to grips with if you consider the other side of the picture. Unfortunately, I can only recommend some homeopathic remedies after all these years that might help relieve your problems. Topical corticosteroid topical creams might be of assistance. Calendula, derived from the common marigold flower has been purported to have anti-inflammatory properties that might help. This product is available in both pill form and as a topical ointment. Vitamin B5 treatment is successful for some individuals but gets mixed reviews. Hypericum 30c can ease the side effects of shooting pains. There may be swelling and ulceration with this remedy; however the micro-dose prescribed is purported safe to use. Green aloe vera sunburn gel used regularly might also lessen your symptoms. Please be sure to check with your physician prior to using any of these substances, even if they are OTCs.
I wish I could be more positive and tell you exactly what to do after 10 years but unfortunately, I cannot. You might consider seeing a specialist in a pain clinic where you will not be handed drugs for the pain but will have your problem addressed and solutions offered. Give it a try. You have nothing to lose and a lot to gain. Good luck.
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