Some Doctors Downplay Effects of Prostate Cancer Treatments

This post first appeared on the Good Vibrations Magazine.

The Sydney Morning Herald posted an article about medical doctors downplaying the possible impact of prostate cancer treatments on erectile function. Apparently, many of them are concerned that men will avoid or discontinue treatment, rather than risk losing the ability to have an erection.

All of the current treatments for prostate cancer have the risk of sexual side effects. That’s because the nerves that cause erection run right alongside the prostate and they can get damaged really easily. Even when the nerves aren’t actually hurt, they can go into shock from the process of being moved during surgery. Fortunately, they can often recover from that, but it takes time.

According to Anne Katz, PhD, author of Man Cancer Sex, part of the problem is that when the erection-causing nerves go into shock, the nerves that cause the penis to soften are still working, which can cause the penis to shorten, although it’ll often recover. But if there aren’t even any nocturnal erections, the tissues of the penis can atrophy, causing a permanent change. Fortunately, some doctors in Canada have discovered that low doses (like 1/4 of the smallest pill) of Viagra at night can facilitate nocturnal erections, which helps keep the penis healthy while the nerves heal. Note: please don’t self-medicate. I’m not an MD and if you’re dealing with any kind of health issue, consult your doctor.

Other treatments for prostate cancer have other risks, so you definitely want to explore your options. I liked Katz’s book, as well as the companion volume Woman Cancer Sex. You can also get a free pamphlet from the American Cancer Society by calling them and requesting Sexuality for the Man With Cancer or Sexuality for the Woman With Cancer.

Of course, any diagnosis of cancer is frightening and people often become too sacred to be able to process the information their doctor is giving them. When you add in the taboos around talking about death or sex, as well as the tendency to equate erections with masculinity, it’s no wonder that some men focus on the possible loss of erectile response. But unfortunately, that leads some medical professionals to downplay that side of things in order to help encourage men to get the medical care they need.

Please don’t let possible sexual effects scare you away from getting annual prostate exams or form getting medical care. Prostate cancer is usually slow-moving unless it spreads beyond the prostate. So get checked out and get the care you need.

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