PURPOSE: In this paper, the authors propose a novel efficient method to segment ultrasound images of the prostate with weak boundaries. Segmentation of the prostate from ultrasound images with weak boundaries widely exists in clinical applications. One of the most typical examples is the diagnosis and treatment of prostate cancer. Accurate segmentation of the prostate boundaries from ultrasound images plays an important role in many prostate-related applications such as the accurate placement of the biopsy needles, the assignment of the appropriate therapy in cancer treatment, and the measurement of the prostate volume. METHODS: Ultrasound images of the prostate are usually corrupted with intensity inhomogeneities, weak boundaries, and unwanted edges, which make the segmentation of the prostate an inherently difficult task. Regarding to these difficulties, the authors introduce an active band term and an edge descriptor term in the modified level set energy functional. The active band term is to deal with intensity inhomogeneities and the edge descriptor term is to capture the weak boundaries or to rule out unwanted boundaries. The level set function of the proposed model is updated in a band region around the zero level set which the authors call it an active band. The active band restricts the authors' method to utilize the local image information in a banded region around the prostate contour. Compared to traditional level set methods, the average intensities inside∖outside the zero level set are only computed in this banded region. Thus, only pixels in the active band have influence on the evolution of the level set. For weak boundaries, they are hard to be distinguished by human eyes, but in local patches in the band region around prostate boundaries, they are easier to be detected. The authors incorporate an edge descriptor to calculate the total intensity variation in a local patch paralleled to the normal direction of the zero level set, which can detect weak boundaries and avoid unwanted edges in the ultrasound images. RESULTS: The efficiency of the proposed model is demonstrated by experiments on real 3D volume images and 2D ultrasound images and comparisons with other approaches. Validation results on real 3D TRUS prostate images show that the authors' model can obtain a Dice similarity coefficient (DSC) of 94.03% ± 1.50% and a sensitivity of 93.16% ± 2.30%. Experiments on 100 typical 2D ultrasound images show that the authors' method can obtain a sensitivity of 94.87% ± 1.85% and a DSC of 95.82% ± 2.23%. A reproducibility experiment is done to evaluate the robustness of the proposed model. CONCLUSIONS: As far as the authors know, prostate segmentation from ultrasound images with weak boundaries and unwanted edges is a difficult task. A novel method using level sets with active band and the intensity variation across edges is proposed in this paper. Extensive experimental results demonstrate that the proposed method is more efficient and accurate.