Prostate cancer doesn’t cause erectile dysfunction, but the treatment typically does. Depending on which type of treatment you undergo, ED can last a few months to a few years. As a result, questions about just how prostate cancer and sex will go together in this new stage of life are common. The following are three ways to navigate your expectations and your options.
Understand the treatments.
The first thing to understand is that the incidence and severity of ED after prostate cancer will depend on the strength of your erections before prostate cancer and the type of treatment you experienced. The most common treatments for prostate cancer are surgery, radiation therapy and hormone therapy, and each are associated with different degrees of ED.
Surgery. Sources indicate that in most instances after a nerve-sparing prostatectomy, erectile dysfunction can be experienced for up to two years following the procedure. The duration of ED depends on the stage of cancer, how much of the area outside of the prostate was impacted, and the skill of the surgeon.
Radiation Therapy. In radiation therapy, erectile dysfunction doesn’t happen immediately after treatment but comes on gradually within approximately six months. If more sophisticated treatments, such as brachytherapy, intensity-modulated radiotherapy or 3-D conformal radiotherapy, are used, the risk of ED may be less.
Hormone Therapy. Hormone therapy can result in both ED and decreased sexual desire based on the how the therapy reduces testosterone in the body. Both side effects can start to occur two to four weeks after therapy begins.
Start the healing process between prostate cancer and sex.
Being informed about each treatment and its effects will help set expectations and stop you from getting discouraged or stressed. And, armed with knowledge, you can start working on recovery and solutions.
During this time, it’s important to remember that movement equals healing. Experts report that in recovery, the penis needs activity. If you’ve undergone surgery, the nerves surrounding the prostate may be damaged or removed, resulting in scar tissue build-up that can actually cause the penis to contract or shrink.
According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, a vacuum therapy device can help promote penile health and strength and prevent loss of length associated with the development of scar tissue.
A vacuum therapy device or penis pump can be purchased discretely without a prescription and involves placing an acrylic tube over the penis. One end is held firmly to the base of the penis using lubricant, while the other end is attached to a battery- or manually-powered pump. The pump creates negative air pressure, or a vacuum, that draws blood into the penis, creating an erection. Once the erection is achieved, a support ring is slid from around the acrylic tube and placed around the base of the penis holding the erection in place.
If you experiment with a penis pump and as you continue navigating the new terrain of prostate cancer and sex, it’s important to be optimistic. The Prostate Cancer Foundation reports positive outcomes of using a penis pump, citing one study that found that only 23% of men who used a penis pump properly twice a week, starting one month after surgery for a total of nine months after a radical prostatectomy, complained of decreased length and girth of the penis.
Other studies reported by the National Institutes of Health, confirmed the safety and tolerability of penis pumps as rehabilitation for patients after radical prostatectomy, and that penis pumps improved ED in 84% to 95% of patients.
Sex after prostate removal is possible, and understanding your treatment, rehabilitating the penis through vacuum therapy, and being positive can all make a significant difference. To learn more, browse our blogs and download our free ebook, Prostate Cancer and ED: What You Need to Know.