Prostate cancer treatment: consequences

Possible consequences of prostate cancer treatment

prostate cancer treatment side effectsAs with any major treatment, prostate cancer therapies might come with several significant side effects as a consequence of prostate cancer treatment. However, simply listing the various side effects of treatments doesn’t present a full picture of a patient’s quality of life. It is important to keep in mind that many studies about the impact of these side effects on prostate cancer survivors often fail to measure men’s quality of life before they underwent treatment.

The most common consequences of prostate cancer treatment are listed below and include the relevant statistics for each of the various prostate cancer treatment methods.

  1. URINARY DYSFUNCTION includes both urinary incontinence (ranging from some leakage to complete loss of bladder control) and “irritative voiding symptoms” (such as increased urinary frequency or pain upon urination). After therapy, these symptoms are generally a result of damage to the nerves and muscles that regulate urinary control. Patients who have mild incontinence after surgery are generally somewhat bothered by it, but not as bothered as those who have the severe urinary blockage problems which sometimes result from radiation treatments.


  • After six months: 25% of men report frequent leakage and a need to use absorbent pads
  • After three years: Fewer than 10% report using pads at all

External Beam Radiation

  • After six months: 45% of men report irritating voiding symptoms (the majority are resolved by one year)
  • After three years: Fewer than 10% still require pads


  • After six months: Over 70% of men have symptoms requiring absorbent pads or medication (although that rate drops below 25% within the first two years)
  • After three years: Fewer than 10% still require pads or medication


  1. BOWEL DYSFUNCTION encompasses symptoms such as diarrhea, frequent stools, inability to control bowel movements, and rectal bleeding. Although bowel dysfunction is often viewed as a major issue after radiation treatments, less than 20% of these patients ever experience severe bother from bowel symptoms.


  • Damage to the rectum is rare after prostatectomy, occurring in less than 3% of cases.

External Beam Radiation

  • About 10-20% of men report having persistent diarrhea a few times each week after two years
  • Rectal bleeding generally increases from 5% immediately post-treatment to 25% after two years


  • After just one year, bowel dysfunction seems to stabilize at a low rate (less than 10%)


  1. ERECTILE DYSFUNCTION severely bothers nearly all men for the first few months after treatment, regardless of the therapy used. This is because any trauma to the incredibly delicate nerves and blood vessels that control the physical aspects of an erection will cause changes for a period of time.


  • After one year: 40-50% of men will have returned to their pre-treatment function
  • After two years: 30-60% will have returned to pre-treatment levels

External Beam Radiation

  • Around 50% of men will experience erectile dysfunction
  • These numbers will occasionally worsen over time due the latent effects of radiation


  • Around 25-30% of men will experience erectile dysfunction
  • These numbers will occasionally worsen over time due the latent effects of radiation


  1. LOSS OF FERTILITY is the most common side effect of any prostate cancer therapy—it is nearly impossible for any man to retain his ability to have children after treatment. However, there are several alternatives available to men who still want to be able to father children after treatment, such as sperm banking or extracting sperm directly from the testicles.

Life after Treatment

Although the side effects of prostate cancer treatments may seem daunting, they are obstacles that can be overcome over time with the support of family, friends, and doctors.