In September, we’re talking about erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment.
Dr. Charles Snuffy Myers frames this month’s conversations.
Most men with prostate cancer have concerns about sexual function because diminished erectile dysfunction is a frequent side effect of the most widely used treatments. Additionally, as men get older they often have issues with erectile dysfunction even if they do not have prostate cancer. In fact, prostate cancer and its treatments are not the major cause of male sexual dysfunction. The two most common causes are diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
One of the more common mistakes physicians make is to attribute all medical problems to the cancer and its treatment. Men with prostate cancer often suffer from undiagnosed or under-treated diabetes or cardiovascular disease. For this reason, newly diagnosed prostate cancer patients should be evaluated for these two diseases. This is especially true if you are likely to need hormonal therapy, as this treatment can exacerbate both diseases.
Several drugs used to treat cardiovascular disease and diabetes may well have a favorable impact on the clinical course of prostate cancer, including the statins used to lower cholesterol, ARBs used to treat hypertension, and metformin used to treat diabetes. With this in mind, there should be no hesitation to treat diabetes and cardiovascular disease appropriately in men with prostate cancer.
Standard treatment of erectile function often centers on the use of Viagra (sildenafil), Levitra (vardenafil), Cialis (tadalafil), or related drugs. Erections are normally triggered by dilation of the arteries that supply the penis. This is caused by the release of nitric oxide, a powerful vasodilator. Viagra (sildenafil) and related drugs make the arteries to the penis more sensitive to the action of nitric oxide. However, this effect is not limited to arteries in the penis but also develop in arteries elsewhere. As a result, some patients experience symptoms of low blood pressure and facial flushing. Drugs that release nitric oxide, such as nitroglycerine, can cause severe hypotension when co-administered with Viagra (sildenafil) or related drugs.
These drugs can be administered in a single dose shortly before sex or at much lower doses chronically. There is some evidence that chronic low dose administration is more effective for penile rehabilitation after surgery or radiation. There is a biochemical rationale for this. Arterial health appears to be at least partially supported by chronic release of nitric oxide and these drugs may augment that effect.
There are men who do not adequately respond to oral drugs, the vacuum pump, or penile injections. In this situation, the penile implant offers a reasonable option. In skilled hands, this procedure is usually very effective. Unfortunately, too few patients select this path.
Treatment for erectile dysfunction has improved dramatically over the past two decades. Most men with erectile dysfunction after prostate cancer treatment can recover sufficient function to have a sex life, but treatment needs to be initiated in a timely fashion. It is also important to not ignore aggressive options like penile injection or penile implant.