Treating Prostate Cancer
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men with an estimated 217,730 new cases in 2010. As an incredibly common form of cancer there has been a fair amount of focus on treating this disease, resulting in relatively successful treatment options and many living survivors at any given time. While modern treatments for prostate cancer, including external radiotherapy, surgery and brachytherapy, have saved and prolonged many lives, they also lead to serious negative side effects. What impact do these side effects have on well-being after treatment?
The Effects of Treatment
The quality of life after primary treatment for prostate cancer will change. Each form of treatment involves different possible side effects that patients may have to face once treatment is over. Radiotherapy involves the use of an external beam of radiation focused on the pelvic area to destroy cancer cells. While there are many benefits of external radiation as it can cure early prostate cancer, there is a negative effect to healthy cells. This can lead to the following problems:
- Looser bowel movements
- Erection problems
- Burning sensation during urination
Surgical removal of the prostate, known as radical prostatectomy, is a common and often effective treatment for early prostate cancer. Urinary problems and erectile dysfunction are common side effects which may or may not improve. Long-term (more than two years) urinary incontinence is not likely, but permanent loss of sexual function is a very real possibility.
Brachytherapy, or prostatic implantation of radioactive seeds, is another often very effective primary treatment for prostate cancer. Tiny radioactive seeds are implanted into the prostate. Urinary leakage, urinary irritation, rectal problems and problems with sexual function are possible side effects. On a positive note, the University of Michigan article (2002) mentions that only about 10 percent of men who received the therapy reported problems such as incontinence, burning or frequent urination, and rectal bleeding or diarrhea. These numbers may have since evolved with more comprehensive research.
Staying Positive for a Healthy Future
There are two things to consider when it comes to determining the quality of life after primary treatment for prostate cancer. First, some of these effects will diminish over several months and go away within two years. On the other hand, it is also possible for effects to be long-term, or even permanent. It is important to talk to your doctor about your side effects and to see what help they may provide. It is also important to do what is in your power to improve your well-being and eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise (if okayed by your physician) and make efforts to support your mental health.
It is true that these prostate cancer treatments come with unwanted side effects, and every individual will have their own specific experience. At the same time, these methods of treatment are very effective with treating localized prostate cancer. Have an open conversation with your doctor both before and after treatment.
Shah, Nikhil L. & Martin G. Sanda, M.D. “Quality of Life Affecting Treatment Decisions for Prostate Cancer.” (University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center) https://www.cancernews.com/articles/prostatecancer.htm
National Cancer Institute, https://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/types/prostate