My life is turning into an evangelistic crusade to raise awareness about the risks of prostate cancer treatment. Tens of thousands of men are undergoing unnecessary radical prostate cancer therapy with dire sexual consequences. These inappropriate and often fatefully wrong treatment choices are made because men are often completely unaware of the irreversible effects of the treatment itself.
Thankfully, I am not alone in this battle to inform men about the harm associated with prostate surgery. Another prostate oncologist, Dr. Celestia Higano from the University of Washington, recently published a scientific review on this very topic in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (JCO). For those of you who haven’t heard of the JCO, I consider it to be the most prestigious scientific cancer journal in the world.
Today’s blog will offer quote seven selected sections from Dr. Higano’s important article. To add some gravitas to the eye opening statements you are about to read, please realize that every one of her comments was referenced to a specific scientific report. In other words, these statements have nothing to do with opinions. They are genuine outcomes from published scientific studies.
So without further ado let’s start with the first quote from the article:
Quote #1: “Unfortunately, many couples believe that even if they have problems with erectile dysfunction (ED) … they will be able to resume their normal sexual practices through the advances of modern technology.4 They are not informed that sexual function will never be the same after any form of therapy and they are often unprepared for the changes in their sexual and intimate relationship.” (Italics mine)
Quote #2: “PDE5 inhibitors (Viagra, Cialis) and other erectile aids are not successful for all patients with ED and, even when effective, half the patients stop using them within one year.11 Why couples stop using ED therapies has not been adequately investigated , but disappointment that sex life is not the same … likely contributes to this outcome.”
Quote #3: “In a Memorial Sloan-Kettering series of 475 men … 20% of men who had radical prostatectomy (RP) had climacturia at one year, and climactauria as associated with both painful orgasm and penile shortening.13” (Climacturia means that orgasm results in the ejaculation of urine instead of semen).
Quote #4: “At the Karolinska Institute, 1,288 patients had either open or robotic-assisted laparoscopic RP, and of the 691 men who were sexually active, 38% reported climacturia at least sometime during sexual activity. Of the men who reported climacturia, 72% had climacturia less than half the time, 17% more than half the time, and 11% all the time.14”
Quote #5: “In a review of 1,459 men who had RP at New York University, climacturia was found to decrease from 44% at 3 months to 22% at 24 months after surgery. Climacturia is a common complication of RP but is often overshadowed by concerns about ED and overt urinary incontinence.14-16”
Quote #6: “In a study of VED (vacuum erectile device) use after RP, the length and circumference of the penis decreased in 63% of patients who did not use a VED after RP compared with only 23% who did.18-20”
Quote #7: “Surgery can also result in Peyronie’s disease (also called, “crooked penis”) in up to 16% of patients.23"When patient are informed of the dire consequences of surgery they are often mystified as to why urologists, who must be aware of the damage surgery causes, continue vigorously to recommend it. I have heard many patients voice the opinion that urologists are driven by a selfish desire for financial gain.
The financial motive, however, fails to ring true. As medical procedures go, prostate surgery is poorly reimbursed. Also, when urologists are diagnosed with prostate cancer they themselves often proceed with a radical prostatectomy. So money is not the primary issue. Rather, consider that performing surgery is part of the very fabric of a surgeons’ persona. From a surgeon’s point of view, if you are not operating, you are not a surgeon.
Men considering surgery for prostate cancer need to be aware of its substantial risks. And when getting advice about which treatment to select, patients also need to realize that surgeons usually can’t provide balanced advice. They are too close to the trees to see the forest.