Many surgeons and radiation centers tout promising statistics when they talk to men about the risk of sexual side effects from prostate cancer treatment. But as I write in the Sunday Review, new research published last week finally offers men some straight talk about what to expect from treatment for prostate cancer.
The reality for many of the 240,000 men in the United States in whom prostate cancer is diagnosed each year is not all that rosy, at least when it comes to their intimate lives. After surgery and radiation treatments, many men quickly discover that sex will never be normal again. Sensations change. Many men can no longer achieve erections without pumps or pills. For some, the ability to have sex goes away entirely.
Yet, for years, men facing prostate cancer surgery have been reassured by their doctors, who could cite studies in prominent medical journals, that their sex lives would be just fine after treatment. Doctors would often boast of sexual recovery rates in excess of 90 percent, but failed to disclose that those numbers applied to a select group of patients rather than to most men who walked in the door.
Sex and prostate cancer
Treatment for prostate cancer can cause a variety of side effects. Any of these can affect your sex life, some more than others.
Some men get diarrhoea during radiotherapy and for some time afterwards. This can be unpleasant and tiring and may put you off wanting to have sex. It will gradually go back to normal after a few weeks though.
You may feel too tired to want sex for some time after prostate cancer treatment. There is information about coping with tiredness in the symptoms and side effects section of CancerHelp UK.
Radiotherapy, surgery and hormone treatment can lead to difficulty getting an erection (impotence). Erection difficulties can be temporary or permanent and can be very difficult to come to terms with. You may find it difficult to talk about this with your doctor or with your partner. If you can talk to your doctor or specialist nurse, you may find they have a specialist counsellor or sex therapist you can be referred to.
Effects of prostate cancer treatment
Treatment for prostate cancer can cause a variety of side effects. Any of these can affect your sex life, some more than others. You will not have all the side effects mentioned on this page. The effects you have will depend on the treatment you have had.
Some men worry that the cancer could be passed on to a partner in their semen. But cancer cannot be passed on in this way. It is not infectious.
You may not feel like sex at all while you are having your treatment, or for some time after you are diagnosed. Many people feel very low after they have been told they have cancer and don’t feel interested in sex. But some people react to their diagnosis by feeling they should be packing as much into life as possible. If you feel like this, and treatment has caused erection problems, this may be hard to bear.
Whatever happens at first, remember that things will change. To see how your sex life will be affected permanently, you will need to wait until at least the end of your treatment. And until you are feeling more back to normal.
Some of the side effects listed here are temporary – for example, tiredness and diarrhoea due to radiotherapy will wear off some weeks after your treatment has finished.
By TARA PARKER-POPE