Complications of Prostate Cancer Surgery

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Prostate cancer surgery, or prostatectomy, is one of the most common ways to treat cancer that has not spread outside the prostate gland. But before you have surgery, you should know about some complications it can cause. The most common are problems with urination and sexual function. Sometimes these problems get better on their own a few months to a year after surgery. In other cases, you may need to get treatment. 

Urinary Problems

A common side effect of prostate surgery is incontinence. This means not being able to control your urine or leaking urine. All men are different, but younger men are less likely to have urinary problems than older men.   

Most men find their urinary problems improve a few months to a year after surgery. In rare cases, these problems can last for longer than a year. If you have problems with incontinence, tell your doctor. He or she can suggest some ways to help treat the problem including:

  • Diapers or pads. Many men find these products are useful for the first weeks after surgery.
  • Kegel exercises. These are special exercises you can do to help strengthen the muscles around your pelvic floor. Your doctor can give you instructions on how to perform these exercises.
  • Medicines. There are a few different kinds of medicines that can help with incontinence. Your doctor will choose one for you based on your medical history. 
  • Surgery. If other treatments do not work, your doctor may talk with you about surgical options. 

Sexual Problems

There are a few types of sexual problems you can have after surgery:

  • Changes in orgasms. Depending on the type of surgery you have, you may not ejaculate much when you orgasm. You may also find your orgasms painful or less intense. In some cases, you may not be able to have an orgasm. 
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED). This means not being able to get or keep an erection. ED is the most common sexual problem men report after prostate surgery
  • Loss of fertility. With hormone-sensitive advanced prostate cancer, you may undergo surgical removal of your testes. If that happens, you may no longer be able to father a child through sex. If this is a concern for you, talk with your doctor about your options for preserving sperm before your surgery.  

In many cases, your sexual function will return to normal within a year or two after surgery. But this isn’t the case for everyone. If you have ED or other sexual problems for more than a few months, talk with your doctor. He or she can talk with you about the many treatment options.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 4

  1. Surgery for prostate cancer. American Cancer Society.

  2. What is Radical Prostatectomy (Surgery) for Prostate Cancer? Urology Care Foundation.

  3. Treatment Choices for Men With Early-Stage Prostate Cancer. National Cancer Institute.

  4. Living with prostate cancer: urinary dysfunction. Prostate Cancer Foundation.

  5. Urinary Incontinence in Men. National Institutes of Health. National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

  6. Side Effects. National Cancer Institute.

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