Matters of Survivorship: Sexual Health
If you’re dealing with prostate cancer – the disease itself, or the aftermath of treatment – then you are dealing with issues of survivorship, says PCF-funded medical oncologist Alicia Morgans, M.D., M.P.H., soon to become the new Medical Director of Cancer Survivorship at Dana Farber.
Sexual health is “one of the most underrecognized issues” for prostate cancer patients and their partners. One big reason why is that men just don’t want to talk about it, either because they keep hoping it will get better, or they just decide to be stoic and carry on. “Even though we have a roadmap for how to address these issues after surgery or radiation, we often lack the support system,” says Morgans. “There are way too few sexual health counselors specifically dedicated to helping men recovering from prostate cancer.” And yet: “This is an area of high interest to many patients. Sexual health affects their personal experience, their mood, energy, everything they do.” It also affects the health of their partners.
Although this is the issue many men wish would just go away, what they need to do is just the opposite of hoping for the best: be proactive. If you had surgery and you haven’t already had this discussion with your urologist, find out what you can do for penile rehabilitation. This may include pills such as Viagra, Cialis, or other PDE5 inhibitors; vacuum devices for stretching the penis to protect against scar tissue formation; in-office or at-home treatment with a small TENS unit to stimulate nerve regeneration and help with return of urinary control; penile injection; or a penile implant.
Don’t suffer in silence! Don’t listen to anyone, yourself included, who thinks, “Your cancer has been cured. Just be happy with that.” There are many steps you can take to recover your sexual health – but they won’t happen if you don’t ask for help.
Intimacy: This is not the same as sexual health, but men on ADT and their partners still need intimacy. If your oncologist or medical center does not provide counseling in this area, ask for a referral to a sexual health counselor, and keep this in mind: you are not alone, whether you’re the patient or his partner. There are thousands of couples dealing with this issue, as well. Your doctor also may be able to recommend support groups, online and affiliated with local medical centers.
Download PCF’s Prostate Cancer Patient Guide for more information on managing erectile function and other effects of treatment.
Read Part 1 here.
Coming up next, Part 3: Matters of Survivorship: Fighting Back on ADT