Restoring Sexual Function After Prostate Surgery
by Rebecca J. Stahl, MA
Radical prostatectomy is surgery to remove the prostate gland and surrounding structures. This surgery is most often done to treat prostate cancer. The success rates are good if the cancer has not spread beyond the prostate. However, there are side effects to the surgery. One is erectile dysfunction (ED).
The reason why radical prostatectomy carries this risk is that two tiny cavernous nerves are located along the sides of the walnut-sized prostate. Normally, these cavernous nerves carry signals to the penis to fill with blood and become erect. During surgery, the doctor may need to remove one or both nerves if they are too close to the cancer. Also, even if the nerves are not removed, they can still be damaged during the surgery. The trauma to the cavernous nerves is one of the main causes of ED after prostate surgery.
Talking With Your Doctor
If you have been diagnosed with prostate cancer and need surgery, you may want to know what options are available to restore your sexual function after surgery. First, it is important that you talk openly with your doctor about:
You should also talk to your doctor about your overall risk of ED. For example, if you are older, have a chronic condition like diabetes, or already have sexual function problems, then you are more likely to develop ED after the surgery.
While it can be difficult to discuss sensitive topics like sex, remember that your sexual health is a part of your overall health and well-being, and it is definitely worth talking about. If you have a partner, be sure to involve this important person in your recovery since your sexual function affects you both.
Exploring Your Options
Since ED is a common complication after prostate surgery, it is a good idea to learn about your treatment options. It is also important to understand that while ED affects most men after prostate surgery, many men regain the ability to have erections within 2 years of nerve-sparing surgery. This is not as common, though, if the nerves were removed.
Your doctor may prescribe medications like sildenafil, vardenafil, or tadalafil after your surgery. These medications work by increasing blood flow to the penis, which may restore the ability to have an erection.
Injecting medication directly into the penis is another option. While this is not as convenient as taking a pill, this option can help produce an erection.
A vacuum device is also available. This involves placing a mechanical pump over the penis. This pump creates vacuum pressure, which triggers an erection by causing blood to flow into the penis. To maintain the erection, a small band is placed around the shaft of the penis.
Surgery can also be done to treat ED, as various devices exist that can be implanted into the penis to help you achieve an erection. With one type, there is a small pump implanted under the skin of the scrotum. When you want to have sex, you squeeze the pump and fluid is sent to cylinders that are implanted in the penis. The fluid helps create an erection.
Pelvic floor muscle exercises offer yet another option. These exercises have been found to improve erectile function in men with ED from other causes. Your doctor may recommend that you do pelvic floor muscle exercises after surgery to help with urinary control and possibly for restoring your sexual function.
Since there are many treatments to try, there is a good chance that you will find one that fits your lifestyle.
There may be other sexual problems, though, beyond the ability to have an erection. For example, you may experience difficulty having an orgasm. For men who can have an orgasm after prostate surgery, they will still have a pleasurable experience. But, they will not ejaculate semen due to the removal of the prostate.
Dealing With the Emotional Impact
Facing a cancer diagnosis and the impending treatment is a life-changing event. It may be too overwhelming for you to think about how prostate surgery will affect your sex life.
Remember that there are doctors and mental health professionals who have a lot of experience in dealing with ED. Therapists understand how sexual problems can affect your feelings of self-worth and your relationships. If you have a partner, you may want your partner to attend therapy with you. You can both express your fears and concerns, learn coping strategies, and find new ways to develop intimacy during your recovery. There are also support groups available to provide further encouragement and hope.
While ED is common right after prostate surgery, you may regain sexual function after some time. This may range from several months to 2 years. Also, remember that ED can be treated. By working with your doctor, you will be able to recover from prostate surgery and find an effective ED treatment that is right for you.
American Cancer Society
Prostate Cancer Foundation
Canadian Cancer Society
Prostate Cancer Canada
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Prostate cancer EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114483/Prostate-cancer. Updated February 18, 2017. Accessed February 23, 2017.
Sexuality for the man with cancer. American Cancer Society website. Available at: https://www.cancer.org/treatment/treatments-and-side-effects/physical-side-effects/fertility-and-sexual-side-effects/sexuality-for-men-with-cancer.html. Accessed February 23, 2017.
What happens after treatment? Urology Care Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed February 23, 2017.
What is radical prostatectomy (surgery) for prostate cancer? Urology Care Foundation website. Available at:
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Accessed February 23, 2017.
Last reviewed February 2017 by Michael Woods, MD
Last Updated: 2/23/2017
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