Side effects from radiation therapy to the prostate

During radiation therapy to the prostate, you may experience different short-term side effects.

What are the possible short-term side effects?

Radiation therapy to the prostate may cause a number of short-term side effects. However, everyone is different and you’re unlikely to experience all of the same side effects as someone who is receiving the same treatment as you.

If you’re concerned about any side effects during your radiation therapy treatment to the prostate, we encourage you to speak with your care team who can help you with strategies to manage your side effects.

Types of short-term side effects

Bowel irritation

Radiation therapy can irritate the lower part of the bowel and you may experience some related symptoms towards the end of your treatment. Symptoms of irritation can include:

  • Increase in the amount of times you use your bowels
  • Softer/looser bowel actions
  • Discomfort in passing a bowel motion
  • Urge to use your bowels without passing a motion (tenesmus)
  • Bleeding from the rectum (especially if you have haemorrhoids)
  • Mucus discharge

Let your nursing team known if you experience any bowel changes or discomfort as they will be able to provide advice to help you manage. Dietary changes may be required, and a referral to a dietitian can be arranged for you.

It is important to drink two litres (8 glasses) of water each day (as long as you are not on a restricted fluid intake). If your temperature is elevated, you’re having trouble or discomfort passing urine, experience any blood in your urine or have abdominal pain, please promptly notify your care team.

Sexual functioning

The effect of radiation therapy to sexual function can be different for everyone. You can continue sexual activity without causing harm to your partner. However, it is important to use contraception to avoid pregnancy during treatment.

Radiation therapy can damage the nerves that control erections and this may affect your ability to maintain an erection or you may feel a burning sensation during ejaculation. This may develop over time and be ongoing. Your desire to have a sexual relationship may also decrease during treatment. Please discuss with your care team if you would like more information or have any concerns. Referral to a doctor who specialises in erectile dysfunction can be arranged for you if required.


Fatigue is a common side effect of radiation therapy. You may feel tired or lack energy for daily activities during your treatment. This is a normal reaction to the radiation therapy and each person is affected in varying degrees. Finding a balance between rest and activity will help you manage daily life.

Bladder irritation

As you progress through your treatment, radiation therapy can irritate the bladder lining and the urethra (the tube that you urinate and ejaculate through).

Symptoms can include:

  • The need to urinate more often, including overnight
  • A sudden urge to empty your bladder
  • A burning sensation when you urinate
  • Change or reduction in your urine flow/stream and/or difficulty urinating
  • Blood or particles in the urine

Should any symptoms of bladder irritation occur, let your nursing team or doctor know as soon as possible as they can provide advice and treatment options to reduce your discomfort.

Skin reaction

With our current treatment techniques, it is uncommon for a skin reaction to occur when we are treating the prostate. However, the skin around the anus may become irritated if you experience frequent or loose bowel actions. Your nurses will provide you with information on how to care for your skin during your treatment.

  • During your treatment we advise that you wash your skin gently with warm water and non-perfumed soap
  • Do not use talcum powder in the treatment area
  • Avoid exposure of the treated area to excessive temperatures including heat packs, ice packs, electric blankets, saunas or hot spas during your radiation therapy

Advise your nurse if you are experiencing any skin changes. We can help you to manage them and provide support.


Bowel and bladder

Your bladder needs to be comfortably full and your lower bowel needs to be empty for your daily treatment.

Please follow the bladder and bowel preparation advice from your radiation therapy team.


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