Rectal bleeding and faecal incontinence are serious injuries that men with prostate cancer who receive radiotherapy can experience. Although technical advances - including the use of intensity-modulated radiotherapy coupled with image-guided radiotherapy - have enabled the delivery of dose distributions that conform to the shape of the tumour target with steep dose gradients that reduce the dose given to surrounding tissues, radiotherapy-associated toxicity can not be avoided completely. Many large-scale prospective studies have analysed the correlations of patient-related and treatment-related parameters with acute and late toxicity to optimize patient selection and treatment planning. The careful application of dose-volume constraints and the tuning of these constraints to the individual patient's characteristics are now considered the most effective ways of reducing rectal morbidity. Additionally, the use of endorectal balloons (to reduce the margins between the clinical target volume and planning target volume) and the insertion of tissue spacers into the region between the prostate and anterior rectal wall have been investigated as means to further reduce late rectal injury. Finally, some drugs and other compounds are also being considered to help protect healthy tissue. Overall, a number of approaches exist that must be fully explored in large prospective trials to address the important issue of rectal toxicity in prostate cancer radiotherapy.
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