You did it! You beat back prostate cancer and your doctor says you’re in remission. Prostate cancer treatments have come to a conclusion and now it is time to get on with the rest of your life. Side effects after cancer treatments are completed are not uncommon and need to be dealt with as soon as possible so they don’t turn into a lingering problem affecting your normal activities.
Prostate cancer has its own unique side effects following cancer treatment. There are the emotional side effects all cancer patients face and the physical side effects many have to contend with. Learning how to handle these issues after surviving prostate cancer, will keep you focused on the here and now instead of the what-ifs.
Dealing with the emotional side effects
Fortunately, more and more men who have been diagnosed with the second most common cancer found in men, other than skin cancer, find themselves not only breathing a sigh of relief of getting an “all clear” evaluation, but also face the emotional roller coaster ride that accompanies anyone who has conquered cancer. After treatments end, it is very common to have emotional feelings ranging from elation and joy mixed in with feelings of anxiety and worry of the cancer coming back.
These feelings are to be expected and as time moves on and you continue doing well, they begin to fade and are less prevalent. But, whatever you may be feeling, discuss it with your physician. Work with them on building a plan to deal with these emotions and seek additional help with a mental health care provider if the negative feelings persist. Part of the recovery process after finishing cancer treatment is to gain confidence and belief in yourself in addition to making healthy lifestyle habits to reduce the risk of any cancer recurrence.
Dealing with the physical side effects
The most common reported side effects men give after prostate cancer treatments are done is erectile dysfunction and urinary incontinence. Here is a look at how each of these can be managed:
· Erectile Dysfunction
Erectile dysfunction (ED) is the inability to achieve an erection or an erection that is not firm enough for sexual intercourse. One cause of ED can be surgery that was used to treat prostate cancer. Surgery may damage the nerve bundles that control blood flow to the penis resulting in ED. Nerves involved to help achieve an erection surround the prostate gland. Surgeons will try to perform a nerve sparing procedure but sometimes that is not always possible. There can also be a decreased amount of blood flowing into the penis after treatment. Many things can increase the possibility of ED after surgery:
· A man’s age
· A man’s health
· Sexual function before treatment
· Stage of the cancer
· Whether the nerves that control erections were saved
The return of erectile function can be slow after surgery with the average time for erections allowing for intercourse ranging from 4 to 24 months but some men recover much sooner.
Talk with your physician about your concerns as there are treatments that can help with ED. They include medications, vacuum pumps, penile injections, and penile implants. Your physician can help you decide if one is right for you or not.
· Urinary Incontinence
Urinary incontinence is another possible side effect as a result of treatment for prostate cancer. Incontinence is the inability to control your urine. Whether a man may have this depends on his age, bladder function and experience of your doctor. An experienced surgeon can reduce the risk of incontinence after prostate surgery. The type of incontinence may include the following:
· Stress incontinence – This is the most common with urine leakage that occurs when coughing, laughing, sneezing, or exercise.
· Overflow incontinence – This is the inability to empty the bladder completely, taking longer to urinate and having a weak stream.
· Over active bladder (OAB) incontinence – This is the sudden need to go to the bathroom even when the bladder not full because the bladder is overly sensitive.
· Mixed incontinence – A combination of stress and OAB incontinence with symptoms from both types.
Most men will experience some short term incontinence after surgery. This usually does not last long but some men may have it up to six to twelve months. There is treatment based on the type and severity of incontinence which include:
· Kegel exercises to strengthen the bladder
· Lifestyle changes of modifying the diet, losing weight and regular emptying of the bladder
· Medications helping to maintain better control
· Neuromuscular electrical stimulation – This strengthens the bladder muscles to gain better control of urinary continence