Summary: Prostate cancer is a cancer that is statistically growing, meaning that more and more men are diagnosed each year. While treatment for this cancer can remove the risk and cancer itself, there are side effects that can be longer lasting past the end of your treatment. By understanding your risks for these different treatment related side effects, you can better choose how to help yourself with the urinary and sexual dysfunction problems you may be having.
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and begun your treatment, you have most likely learned that all treatments made for this cancer come with different side effects. These side effects can have a great impact on your urinary function and sexual health. The side affects you may experience will depend on a number of factors including the location, stage and grade of your cancer, your age, overall health, treatment being conducted and the skill of your doctors.
The most common side effects that men face with prostate cancer are infertility, urinary incontinence, reduced sexual drive and desire, impotence or erectile dysfunction of varying degrees, and changes in orgasm could all be potential issues while in treatment and immediately after. You medical care team can guide you through the side affects you experience, and there are numerous non-medical ways to handle some of your issues that may arise.
These are the most common side effects with some options for non-medical intervention.
- Infertility. Surgery to remove the prostate, or a prostatectomy, will remove your ability to father a child. If you have radiation therapy to your pelvic area, this will also greatly increase your chances of being infertile. If this is a concern to you, talk with your doctor about taking action to freeze your sperm so that you can use it in the future if and when you are ready to make a family.
- Incontinence. Urinary incontinence is the loss of bladder control or involuntary leaking of urine. Incontinence can occur at any time, before or after your treatment begins. You may need to wear a small bladder leakage pad to catch leaking urine until you can determine what is best for your situation. Short term incontinence is common and typically last a few weeks to a few months after a prostatectomy.
- One way to work to strengthen your pelvic muscles is to do Kegel exercises, which will help to increase your ability to control your leaking urine, thusly minimizing your incontinence symptoms. Kegel exercises are done by utilizing the muscles that control your urine output; the stopping and starting of the flow. To practice your Kegels, squeeze and release the muscles you use to start and stop urination repeatedly and routinely each week.
- Erectile dysfunction & Impotence. Erectile dysfunction, or impotence, is the inability to have or maintain an erection. Treatment may completely or partially injure the two nerve bundles near the prostate that are responsible for allowing a normal erection. Unless both nerve bundles are sacrificed during surgery due to the extent of the cancer, there is a chance of recovering erectile function, but it may be very slow, taking up to two years after surgery for full recovery. All forms of radiation therapy and internal radiation therapy frequently cause impotence as well. Usually it does not occur right after radiation therapy but develops slowly over several years. The majority of men who undergo radiation therapy notice some decrease in their erectile function, with more than fifty percent having a permanent change. Recovery from erectile dysfunction is related to your overall health, age, erection function prior to surgery and treatment, and whether your nerve bundles were damaged. Some men notice their erections are less rigid and durable, even with the return of some function.
- There are some therapeutic devices designed to help with varying levels of erectile dysfunction that can help revive your sexual being. If you notice that you are having trouble getting or holding an erection, the Reclaiming Intimacy’s Enhance erection support ring set or the Retain set of erection enhancers can help to keep the blood safely in your shaft, thusly making your erection feel firmer and last longer. For those men struggling to maintain or achieve any erection at all, but still interested in being intimate with their partner, the Reclaiming Intimacy Empower is a wearable erection support device made for those men who can experience and achieve a partial erection. If you have fully lose your ability to get an erection, the Reclaiming Intimacy Extend is a hollow strap-on device that not only supports the shaft and penis during intercourse, but allows for the same closeness to continue as before your prostate cancer treatment surgery. If you are looking for self-pleasure and getting to know your body again, the Reclaiming Intimacy Titan is designed specifically for erectile dysfunction, and is used as a masturbator that can ejaculate a completely flaccid penis.
- Penis pumps are also very useful for men experiencing these erectile dysfunction related issues. Reclaiming Intimacy’s Leviathan can help you to draw blood into the shaft of your penis to hold and maintain a firmer erection. If you prefer utilizing the gentle power of water, the Reclaiming Intimacy Colossus and Commander are pumps that can be used in the bath, shower, or bedroom.
- Penial changes. During or after your treatment, many men notice that their penises change in feeling and size. Some of these changes cannot be helped and you must learn to live with your new body and ability.
- Changes in Orgasm. After a radical prostatectomy you will still be able to experience orgasm, even with any signs of erectile dysfunction. You might notice a change in sensation and there may be little or no visible ejaculate. Some men might experience the leaking or urine at the peak of orgasm after their treatment surgery.
- Reduced sexual desire and drive. Your lack of sexual desire is also called low libido, or low drive, is a long-lasting continuous lack of desire for sex. In men numerous factors play into one’s sexual drive including testosterone levels, emotional distress, and daily stress levels. Most men facing cancer treatment of any kind will face some level of reduced sexual desire.
To find out your risk for sexual dysfunction and urinary incontinence after prostate cancer treatment surgery, speak with your doctor and medical care team. Aside from the non-medical options listed above, there are always corrective surgeries, medications and alternative therapies that can help to restore your penial function, control your leaky bladder, and help to get your life back where you want it.