Prostate cancer has a high survival rate, and for most men, the treatment can completely eliminate the cancer.
However, although completing your cancer treatment is definitely a reason to celebrate, life after prostate cancer can be a little bit challenging.
The good news is that many of the side effects of surgery, hormones, and radiation therapy are temporary. Even if the side effects don’t go away on their own, there are other treatments and procedures medical professionals can recommend to increase your quality of life.
We asked our urology specialist, William Brant, MD, FACS, FECSM, all about life after prostate cancer. Read on to find out what side effects you may experience, as well as what management therapies can counteract these side effects.
Side effects of radical prostatectomy
Radical prostatectomy, or the surgical removal of the prostate gland, stops cancer from spreading. While this surgery is life-saving for many, it can pose some challenges throughout the recovery.
Urinary incontinence is a common side effect of prostate surgery, although typically it is mild or even goes away within a few months. If you’ve had your prostate removed, you may experience stress incontinence, which means you may leak urine when you cough, sneeze, or laugh.
Some people experience stress incontinence only in the first three months after the surgery, whereas others may experience it for longer and may benefit from pelvic floor exercises. If the urinary incontinence persists (for around 10% of men after prostatectomy), you also have the option of implanting a male sling[this should link to the sling portion of the website] or an artificial sphincter, depending on your situation and the severity of the incontinence.
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is another common side effect of the surgery. All men who undergo a prostate removal will experience ED for at least a short period, due to nerve mobilization during the prostatectomy. However, if you experience persistent issues, Dr. Brant can determine which treatment method can best help you return to a healthy sex life.
He may recommend one or a combination of the following:
- Penile injections
- Penile implants
- Low-intensity extracorporeal shock wave therapy
- Vacuum erection device (VED)
Side effects of radiation therapy
After completing radiation, you may see a change in your bowel movements anywhere between two to six weeks. You may also notice a burning sensation or other issues when you urinate, erection dysfunction, fatigue, and lymphedema (swelling around damaged lymph nodes).
Dr. Brant is here to help recommend the best treatment methods for your symptoms, with a focus on noninvasive treatment methods such as training exercises to strengthen specific muscles and lifestyle changes. Side effects such as erectile dysfunction have many solutions that he can offer.
Side effects of hormone therapy
Androgens stimulate cancer cell growth, so many people undergoing cancer treatment also need androgen deprivation therapy.
However, when the production of androgens is partially blocked, you may experience symptoms such as:
- Weight gain
- Hot flashes
- Low libido
- Growth in breast tissue (gynecomastia)
- Erectile dysfunction
The good news is that after you’re done with androgen deprivation therapy, your body may return to producing enough androgens on its own. Your age, lifestyle, and overall health play a role in how long it takes for your androgen production to normalize.
Learn more about life after prostate cancer
Beating prostate cancer is difficult enough. You shouldn’t have to deal with the aftermath of the treatments as well. Dr. Brant specializes in helping prostate cancer survivors get much-needed treatment for side effects related to urinary and sexual health.