Erectile Dysfunction

Sex after Prostate Cancer

Australia now has the highest incidence of prostate cancer in the developed world – the result of effective messages encouraging men to have regular testing. That’s good news. But it also means many of the 22,000 men diagnosed with prostate cancer each year end up receiving treatments that unnecessarily leave them incontinent and impotent.

I was recently speaking about this at a conference when a young doctor launched into a passionate speech, arguing there is far too much treatment of prostate cancer in this country, without enough warning of the devastating side-effects these men might suffer. Most experts agree there’s some truth in what he said, although there’s a welcome trend for more doctors to now encourage “active surveillance” when the cancer is unlikely to be life-threatening.  Sometimes it’s the patient who pushes for treatment – in his haste to tackle the Big C he may refuse to consider the consequences.

These consequences are often grim. Shocking figures to emerge from the NSW Prostate Cancer Care and Outcomes Study by Cancer Council NSW show that five years after a radical prostatectomy, three quarters of the men have erectile dysfunction (ED) and 12 per cent are still incontinent. Most other treatments show similar ED figures but less incontinence.

These aren’t just old men, ready to hang up their spurs – almost 15,000 Australian men under 55 have been diagnosed with prostate cancer. Far too many of these men are suffering unnecessary sexual problems due to the fact that they haven’t been properly prepared for the “penile rehabilitation” process necessary for most men to regain their sexual functioning.

It’s shocking how often I talk to men who were given no information by their urologists about how to manage this process. The penis is the urologist’s bread and butter. Looking after this organ is how he or she earns much of his living and it is a major concern that so many totally ignore the sexual functions of this important part of the male anatomy. Of course there are some wonderful doctors doing a great job helping men take care of their sexual equipment but they are thin on the ground.

I’m just back from Perth where I was speaking at some events organized by a wonderful Perth physiotherapist, Jo Milios, who works mainly with prostate cancer patients. Perth men should count themselves lucky, with many good urologists working with a team including sexual physicians and physiotherapists to make sure men are well prepared to deal with both ED and incontinence. They are achieving some very impressive results.

I’m working with the Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia, who sponsored my talks, to try to find ways of reaching men across Australia, providing them with the education they need to look forward to a fulfilling sex life after prostate cancer. But it’s not easy to persuade men to come along to such events – they seem far too worried that if they turn up other men might think they have a problem.

We’d welcome your ideas for getting them in the door. And we’d love to be on board if you’d like to put together a similar event in your area – contact me for more information.

4 Responses to Sex after Prostate Cancer

  1. Glenda Kirkby May 14, 2013 at 10:51 am #

    Bettina,
    when are you coming back to Perth? A dear friend of mine went to your talk and is raving about it. He’s just had prostate surgery and my partner is facing “the big decision” right now. I want him to have all the information possible before making a choice.
    Glenda

  2. Bettina May 14, 2013 at 11:05 am #

    I’m trying to organize to do some more talks in Perth on this subject. Will be posting details on my website of any public seminars but in the meantime, email me and I will find you good people to look after your partner. Always happy to help.

    • Roger Coles May 14, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

      Hi Tina, please keep me posted on any meetings that you are planning for Melbourne and why isn’t the Prostate Cancer Foundation lobbying the Federal government for relaxing and putting back erectile disfunction medicine for proven prostate cancer survivers which was take off the PBS by Liberal Sen. Kaye Patterson some 12 years ago? You are doing a fabulous job but all the research being released in this years budget will not assist men who’s sex lives have been radically (no pun intended) changed Regards Roger

      • Bettina May 14, 2013 at 5:35 pm #

        I gather the Prostate Cancer Foundation has plans to do this. I nag them regularly about this!