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Men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer have many treatment options. Among the most common is radiation therapy, also called radiotherapy. This treatment, when used alone or in combination with other therapies, can be highly effective at all stages of the malignancy. However, it can also cause temporary or lasting side effects. One of those possible effects is radiation proctitis, or radiation burns to the rectum, which can cause painful bowel movements, rectal bleeding and stomach cramping.

The rectum is at risk for radiation burn during radiotherapy because only a thin layer of tissue separates it from the prostate. This makes it difficult to bombard cancerous prostate cells with radiation without also grazing the nearby rectum. 

But what if urologists or radiation oncologists could push the rectum out of the line of fire by injecting a specialized hydrogel that expands inside the body and creates about a half-inch buffer between the prostate and its neighbor? That’s the idea behind SpaceOAR hydrogel, a gel-like synthetic material made of water and polyethylene glycol (PEG). The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of SpaceOAR hydrogel as a protective measure during radiation treatment of prostate cancer.

Benefits of using a spacer during prostate radiation

At Moffitt Cancer Center, our team of prostate cancer specialists is concerned about not only our patients’ survival rates but also their quality of life. For this reason, our radiation oncologists were the first in the Tampa Bay area to use a protective innovation called SpaceOAR hydrogel.

Research indicates that the use of hydrogel spacers during prostate radiation can significantly reduce sexual and urinary side effects along with lowering the risk for rectal damage. Additional advantages of injecting SpaceOAR hydrogel before a prostate cancer patient’s radiation treatment include:

  • The protective gel remains intact for about three months, after which it will be absorbed by the body and eliminated through urination within six months.

  • A single injection of SpaceOAR hydrogel can last through even the longest courses of radiotherapy, which sometimes require eight or nine weeks of treatments.

  • SpaceOAR hydrogel is FDA-approved and effective for use during various types of prostate cancer radiotherapy, including external beam radiation and brachytherapy (also known as internal radiation, seed implantation or interstitial radiation therapy).

Some experts are also optimistic that using protective hydrogel during radiotherapy can allow for higher doses with extra power to kill cancer cells while reducing concerns about side effects.

What to expect during a SpaceOAR hydrogel procedure

About a week before prostate radiotherapy begins, the patient will receive an injection to insert the hydrogel in liquid form between the prostate and the rectum. The injection site is typically numbed using a local anesthetic, but some patients may receive general anesthesia that allows them to sleep through the procedure. Urologists or radiation oncologists typically use ultrasound equipment to guide the hydrogel placement, and patients receive prescription medications or other instructions to prepare for the injection.

As with all cancer treatments at Moffitt, patients are individually evaluated to determine whether hydrogel injection should be part of their treatment plan. The prostate cancer specialists in our Urologic Oncology Program consider many factors, including each patient’s age, medical history and the type and stage of the malignancy.

Hydrogel spacers: just one reason to choose Moffitt first

Moffitt has been a pioneer in the use of protective gel spacers during prostate cancer radiotherapy, and that’s just one example of the many ways we stand out among cancer hospitals nationwide. The multispecialty team in our Urologic Oncology Program works collaboratively to devise effective treatment plans that are tailored to each patient’s prostate cancer case. We also offer screening, diagnostic, counseling and treatment services all in one location.

What’s more, as a National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center, we participate in numerous clinical trials that keep us at the forefront of cancer research. As a result, our patients often have access to innovative treatments that are not widely available at other hospitals.

For more information about our use of hydrogel spacers in radiation treatment of prostate cancer or to request an appointment with one of our cancer specialists, call 1-888-663-3488 or fill out our new patient registration form online. No referral is required to schedule an appointment.

Medically reviewed by Ronica Nanda, MD 


ScienceDirect – Absorbable Hydrogel Spacer Use in Prostate Radiotherapy

Prostate Cancer Research Institute – Side Effects From Radiation Therapy

National Institutes of Health – Protection of the Rectum During Prostate Radiation

Future Oncology – Hydrogel Spacers in Prostate Radiotherapy

SpaceOAR Hydrogel – Make Space for Life as Usual

FDA News – Augmenix’s SpaceOAR Prostate Treatment Receives FDA Clearance