Salvage radiation adds to the side effects of surgery and may halt the progress made towards healing. Healing takes time. On the other hand, we have learned that adjuvant or early salvage radiation has better oncological outcomes than waiting, the earlier the better (see this link). Two new studies help us better understand the trade-offs.
Zaffuto et al. examined the records of 2,190 patients who had been treated with a prostatectomy. Their urinary and sexual outcomes were evaluated based on whether they received:
- no radiation
- adjuvant radiation (prior to evidence of recurrence, usually administered 4-6 months following prostatectomy), or
- salvage prostatectomy (after PSA reached 0.2 ng/ml)
They also looked at outcomes based on when they were treated with radiation:
- Less than a year after surgery, or
- A year or more after surgery
With median follow-up of 48 months, the 3-year outcomes were as follows.
Erectile function recovery rates were:
- 35.0% among those who received no radiation
- 29.0% among those who waited to receive salvage radiation
- 11.6% among those who had adjuvant radiation
- 34.7% among those who waited for a year or more before initiating salvage radiation
- 11.7% among those who had radiation within a year
Urinary continence recovery rates were:
- 70.7% among those who received no radiation
- 59.0% among those who waited to receive salvage radiation
- 42.2% among those who had adjuvant radiation
- 62.7% among those who waited for a year or more before initiating salvage radiation
- 43.5% among those who had radiation within a year
Van Stam et al. looked at their database of 241 patients who were treated with salvage radiation and 1005 patients who only received a prostatectomy but no radiation afterwards. All patients were last treated between 2004 and 2015, and had up to 2 years of follow-up afterwards.
After adjusting for patient characteristics, they found that:
- Salvage radiation patients had significantly worse recovery of urinary, bowel, and erectile function.
- Patients who waited more than 7 months before receiving salvage radiation had better sexual satisfaction scores and better urinary function recovery.
So what is one to do: treat earlier for better odds of cancer control, or treat later for better urinary and sexual function recovery? We have seen that adjuvant radiation is rarely likely to be necessary, and that early salvage radiation can probably be just as effective. But what if PSA is already high and rising rapidly? One solution might be to use hormone therapy to halt the cancer progression while tissues heal. That may help with urinary function, but is apt to interfere with recovery of sexual function. This remains a difficult decision, which is why discussions with an experienced radiation oncologist should begin at the earliest detectable PSA (over 0.03 ng/ml) on an ultrasensitive test. Most of all, the patient must do the self-analysis to understand which trade-offs he is willing to make.