Prostate cancer is malignant type of tumor that develops in the prostate gland, which is located under men’s bladder near the rectum. The prostate gland creates a fluid that is expelled with sperm during ejaculation, forming the semen. Cancer occurs when the prostate cells start to grow out of control, which affects the normal function of the gland and can spread to other areas of the body. Prostate cancer is the most common non-skin cancer in the United States and the third leading cause of cancer deaths. The development and progression of the disease can be faster or slower, depending on the patient. It can occur at any age, but it is more common among men older than 65 years.

While in early stages, the symptoms are often unnoticed, but as the disease progresses, patients experience symptoms like urination problems, pain, weakness or numbness in the limbs, and erectile dysfunction. As men are sexually aroused, the blood is able to rush due to the erectile nerves, which run alongside the penis and make the muscles relax. Simultaneously, tiny valves at the penis base shut down to prevent the blood from flowing back out. This why how the penis stays rigid. In the case of erectile dysfunction, the erectile nerves do not work as expected or there is another type of perturbation in the process.

How Erectile Dysfunction Affects Patients with Prostate Cancer

“Regardless of whether the nerves were spared during surgery or whether the most precise dose planning was used during radiation therapy, nearly all men will experience some erectile dysfunction for the first few months after treatment. The reason for this is simple: the nerves and blood vessels that control the physical aspect of an erection are incredibly delicate, and any trauma to the area will result in changes to the natural order,” explain the Prostate Cancer Foundation regarding the causes for erectile dysfunction in prostate cancer patients.

Erectile dysfunction can, however, vary and about 40 to 50% of patients with intact nerves start to see improvements a year after the treatment. After two years, about 30 to 60% of the patients are expected to return to their normal function before the treatment. However, not all treatments can spare the patient’s nerves. In the case of radiation therapy, erectile dysfunction is not a such common side effect, affecting only about 50% of the patients, while in the case of brachytherapy, between 25 and 50% of the patients are affected. Erectile dysfunction not only affects patients’ sexual life, but can also cause emotional problems.

Management of Erectile Dysfunction by Prostate Cancer Patients

There are numerous types of treatments to address erectile dysfunction and improve patients’ quality of life. According to the Prostate Cancer Foundation, these include “oral medications for erectile dysfunction, sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), and vardenafil (Levitra), [which] relax the muscles in the penis, allowing blood to rapidly flow in. On average, the drugs take about an hour to begin working; the erection helping effects of sildenafil and vardenafil last for about 8 hours and tadalafil about 36 hours. About 75% of men who undergo nerve-sparing prostatectomy or more precise forms of radiation therapy have reported successfully achieving erections after using these drugs.”

Men with heart problems are, however, recommended not to take these type of drugs. Surgery is also an option, but it tends to be a final option. To address erectile dysfunction, a penile implant, which is a narrow flexible plastic tube, is surgically inserted along the length of the penis. Then, surgeons attach a small balloon-like structure filled with fluid in the abdominal wall and a small button is released into the testicle. The button can later be pressed and the fluid rushes from the ballon into the plastic tube, resulting in an erection.

Note: Prostate Cancer News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website.