What You Need to Know About Prostate Cancer Treatment: Erectile Dysfunction
(Read time: 3 minutes)
This article is not intended to replace professional medical care or advice. If you have any questions or need additional information, please talk with your doctor.
If you’ve been diagnosed with prostate cancer, you’re not alone. About 1 in 9 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. While 1 in 41 men who are diagnosed will die from this disease, the good news is, if detected early, localized prostate cancer is generally associated with a high survival rate.
But that doesn’t mean that living with prostate cancer before, during, and after treatment isn’t without its difficulties. Some prostate cancer patients may experience complications as a result of prostate cancer treatment.
Erectile dysfunction—along with bowel dysfunction and urinary dysfunction—is one of the more common side effects of prostate cancer treatment. For many men, it can be difficult to think about, talk about, and manage effectively.
Before you decide on a treatment method, it’s important to know as much as you can about the possible side effects, including erectile dysfunction, that you may experience.
How can prostate cancer treatment lead to erectile dysfunction?
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, some level of sexual dysfunction following prostate cancer surgery (i.e., a prostatectomy) is almost inevitable.
To understand why, it’s important to understand how a male achieves an erection. There is a series of fragile nerves and blood vessels close to the prostate gland. These nerves stimulate muscles, allowing for increased blood flow. They also close tiny valves to keep blood in the penis at a high pressure, which maintains the erection. Any damage to the nerves can complicate this process.
That’s why prostatectomies are often referred to as “nerve-sparing” prostatectomies. Depending on the stage and grade of prostate cancer, it can be easier or more difficult for the surgeon to remove the prostate without affecting any adjacent nerves.
Prostate cancer patients who undergo radiation treatment may also be at risk for sexual dysfunction. Up to 70% of men who undergo brachytherapy or standard external beam radiation will eventually recover baseline erectile function after therapy.
There are also newer treatment therapies like vessel sparing radiation therapy, which has an even lower rate of erectile dysfunction. As many as 78% of patients maintain baseline erectile function after treatment.
How to manage erectile dysfunction during and after prostate cancer treatment
The ultimate goal of both surgery and radiation therapy for prostate cancer is to remove as much of the cancer as possible while maintaining a patient’s desired quality of life.
Remember: your ideal treatment plan should be unique to your situation. That’s why it’s so important to get a second opinion and consult with an expert team of medical professionals including urology, radiation oncology, and other specialists.
If you’re looking for a doctor and want to discuss your options for treatment as well as possible side effects you can expect, feel free to use our free doctor finder tool below:
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*Please note, there may be other doctors in your area who treat prostate cancer not listed here.