Many men who are diagnosed with prostate cancer have little knowledge on how the disease and the treatment regimen can completely change their lives. Prostate cancer treatment typically involves a radical prostatectomy, radiation and a course of potent drugs that blocks testosterone production. Most patients receive little or no information about how the treatment regimen will affect an important part of their lives – their sexual health.
If your physician does not bring it up, it is up to you to initiate the discussion on how cancer treatment will affect your sexuality. It is important to be well-informed so that you can ask the right questions.
There are studies that show that though a vast majority of health professionals identify sexual concerns as within their scope of practice, only very few directly address it. Different cancers affect sexuality in different ways. Physicians usually discuss it only when it directly affects the sexual organs.
How does prostate cancer treatment affect your sexual well-being?
Some of the most important information about the effects of prostate cancer treatment on sexuality comes from other men dealing with cancer themselves. Cancer support groups regularly discuss sexual health concerns.
Speak to your doctor for more information about some of the common after-effects of prostate cancer treatment.
Here are some of the physical and psychological effects of cancer and its treatment on sexual health:
• Radical prostatectomy may involve removal of all or a significant part of the prostate, resulting in disrupted blood supply for erections.
• Prostate cancer treatment may result in some form of erectile dysfunction or even castration.
• If pelvic surgery is involved, the scar tissue may affect blood circulation to the sexual organs.
• Diminished libido, physical disfigurement, incontinence and even hair loss can occur. These after-effects can significantly affect a man’s self-image and psychological well-being.
• Though there are drugs that help restore sexual function to a certain extent, cancer treatment can take a heavy psychological toll especially on men whose identities are strongly linked to their sexual abilities.
• Fertility may be adversely affected by chemotherapy.
• Radiation to the pelvic area can obstruct erections because it may damage blood vessels in that area.
• Anti-androgen drugs that are sometimes prescribed after treatment can deprive the body of testosterone and cause hair-loss on arms and legs, loss of muscle, weight gain, mood swings and loss of memory. Some men may even develop breasts and experience hot flashes.
Most men shy away from talking about their sexual concerns after cancer treatment because they are embarrassed. They are also not properly educated about how profoundly difficult life after cancer can be.
Many men, unable to handle the after-effects, succumb to depression. It has a serious impact on their relationships as well. It is up to the couples to jointly face the fallouts of cancer and its treatment. Fatigue, financial worries, depression, sexual concerns and relationship issues must be openly discussed to find the most viable solutions.
Cancer is an extremely tough disease to deal with. It destroys not just the body but also the spirit. But with the help of your partner, friends, family, support networks and your physician you can minimize the ill-effects of this killer disease and the treatment regimen. Life may never be as you knew it before cancer, but it is possible to adapt and lead a fruitful life even after the disease.