Prostate cancer treatments comes with a lot of anxiety. You may be wondering what treatment is best for you, will it work, what adverse effects it may have on your health, how quickly you’ll recover.
When it comes to sex and prostate cancer treatment, most men tend to only ask questions about radical prostatectomies. It seems obvious as to why prostate surgery is at the forefront of most men’s minds: these types of surgery are invasive and will directly impact the nerves that control your ability to function sexually.
Chemotherapy and radiation should be at the forefront of questions about recovering a healthy sex life after prostate cancer treatment.
Chemo and Prostate Cancer
According to the American Cancer Society, chemotherapy is not a standard treatment for early prostate cancer. Chemotherapy – or the use of anti-cancer drugs that are either injected or given orally – is used in prostate cancer patients for cancers that have metastasized, or spread outside of the prostate gland.
The first course of action to combat the spread of prostate cancer is typically hormone therapy, but recent studies have shown that chemotherapy drugs such as Taxotere or Docefrez may be more effective in combating aggressive cancers when combined with testosterone-reducing androgen deprivation therapy, or ADT.
For patients who have advanced stages of prostate cancer, chemotherapy helps improve survival and pain control during treatments.
Side Effects of Chemotherapy
The side effects of chemotherapy depend on the drug and the patient. However, these side effects can include hair loss, fatigue, nausea, diarrhea, and changes in taste buds. Additional side effects can include anemia and reduced heart function.
How Chemotherapy Impacts Your Sex Life
According to Cancer Research UK, some men find that chemotherapy does little to affect their sex lives, whereas others feel affected during treatments but are able to return to a normal, healthy sex life after treatment. In rare cases, chemotherapy can cause a man’s testosterone levels to drop, which can lead to a loss of interest in sex.
If you are undergoing chemotherapy and your partner has a chance of getting pregnant, you should always wear condoms during intercourse, as chemotherapy drugs could potentially harm the baby.
Cancer Research UK also notes the emotional side effects of undergoing chemotherapy and their impact on a patient’s sex life. This is a very important aspect to recovery that should not be ignored. According to the National Cancer Institute, these emotions can range from depression to confusion. Some patients may also experience memory loss. The drastic changes chemotherapy have on the body can also cause fear and alarm in patients.
All of these emotions can impact your sex drive. When undergoing chemotherapy, it is important to surround yourself with a strong support system and to make sure you are focusing on recovering mentally and emotionally, as well as physically.
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Radiation and Prostate Cancer
Radiation therapy is used to treat several cases of prostate cancer: either before or after a prostatectomy to ensure that all of the cancerous tissue has been removed from the body; as initial treatment in men with low-grade slow growth tumors; to shrink the prostate in men with advanced stage prostate cancers; or alongside hormone therapy to combat cancer that has metastasized. Radiation is the process of killing cancer cells, along with surrounding tissue, through direct radiation exposure. There are three types of this therapy: external beam radiation, proton therapy, and brachytherapy.
External beam radiation uses high-energy x-rays to kill cancer cells. This is done by a machine, called a “linear accelerator” that directly aims radiation beams at the prostate gland, eliminating the genetic material that controls how the cancer cells grow and divide. This type of therapy is precise and more effective than other types of radiation therapy.
Proton therapy, where the protons of energetic particles reach a prostate tumor, is extremely precise. Proton therapy allows doctors to directly attack the cancerous cells without destroying the surrounding healthy tissue. Despite being effective, proton therapy is costly, requiring large magnets to create the energetic particles and concrete walls to protect against exposure to the radiation.
Brachytherapy is a form of internal radiation therapy where small radioactive pellets are guided and place into the prostate via CT scans. This form of therapy is only used in men with early stage, slow-growth prostate cancer. Once inside the prostate gland, these pellets give off small amounts of radiation, targeting the cancer cells.
Side Effects of Radiation
Radiation can be dangerous to deal with, and has many side effects.Bowel problems, erectile problems (including impotence), fatigue, and urinary incontinence are all side effects of radiation therapy.
How Radiation Impacts Your Sex Life
According to the American Cancer Society, radiation therapy reduces semen production in men, an issue that could prevent the fathering of children. The impotent effects of radiation could last much longer or develop later than the effects of a radical prostatectomy or chemotherapy, as radiation takes longer to show side effects and can lay dormant in the body.
Additionally, because radiation exposure can be harmful, you must discuss your sexual concerns with your doctor before undergoing radiation therapy. You can have sex after radiation therapy. However, if you partner can get pregnant, you should be using a condom, as radiation exposure can harm a potential pregnancy.
Certain forms of radiation therapy, such as intensity-modulated radiation therapy, which uses computer controlled linear accelerators to deliver exact doses of radiation to specific spots within the tumor, spares healthy tissue and nerves and can minimize the side-effects of radiation therapy, including minimizing the effects of impotency in men.
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All Treatments Differ
As with any form of prostate cancer treatment, your age. health, dose of treatment, and your doctor’s predicted outcome should all be taken into consideration before choosing a treatment option.
You should talk to you doctor about your concerns and, whenever possible, you should let your partner know about the potentially harmful side effects of your treatments. Radiation and chemotherapy differ from radical prostatectomies because the combination of drugs can be dangerous to you and your sexual partner. If you are considering sexual activity during these treatments, you should be aware of how your sex life will be impacted.
It is also important to remember that sex is not just physical. There are emotional and mental side effects to these treatments that can impact your sex life. Be sure to talk to your doctor about how to handle emotional side effects of your treatments.
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