Although erectile dysfunction can affect men of all ages and at different stages of their life; this condition can also be associated with various health conditions. This is especially true for men who have been treated for prostate cancer, where ED may occur for a number of months thereafter.
MacMillan (2013) reports that an estimated 350,000 people in the UK experience sexual consequences of cancer and its treatment. This can be a very distressing and upsetting time as it may feel like another hurdle to overcome, but it’s important to understand that there are many ways that you can receive help and support.
So what are erections and why are they being affected following cancer treatment?
Erections are the result of sexual arousal, which is triggered by the brain sending nerves to the penis. However, there are many reasons why men may experience problems getting an erection following Cancer diagnosis and treatment. These include psychological factors – emotional strains or a reduced libido (sexual appetite). Adding to this, Cancer treatment many affect the nerve and blood supply to the penis – also resulting in ED.
As a psychosexual and relationship therapist, I have supported men and couples through their struggles with ED, sex and intimacy. If you are suffering from ED following prostate cancer then you may find it helpful to seek professional help from a therapist. Although ED may feel like another hurdle to cross and be difficult to face, many men go on to have fulfilling, intimate sex lives. Focusing too much of your attention on penetrative sex can often create a psychological barrier. In truth intimacy and sex can be relished, and occur, without erections and penetration. Sex therapy can assist you to develop ways and means to continue to have a happy and healthy sex life – making the recovery process less scary. This includes facing your feelings associated with sex, relationships and gaining an erection.
There are also a number of medical treatments available to help men with ED and these often work as a complementary solution to counselling.
Medical treatment for ED
A group of drugs called phosphodiesterase type 5 (PDE5) inhibitors can help men get erections. These include; sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), Avanafil (Spedra) and vardenafil (Levitra). These treatments work by relaxing the muscles in the penis, allowing blood to rapidly flow in. On average, the drugs take about an hour to begin working; the effects of sildenafil and vardenafil last for about 4-6 hours and tadalafil up to 36 hours.
Another alternative method that might be helpful to men with erectile dysfunction is a drug called alprostadil. This treatment is available in three forms. Firstly as an injection treatment, which is where you inject alprostadil into the base of your penis. Secondly as a urethral application, which is where you place a small pellet containing alprostadil (MUSE) into your urethra (the tube which your urine passes through and which opens at the end of your penis). Finally as a cream (Vitaros) which is applied to the opening of the urethra on the tip of the penis. Alprostadil works by widening blood vessels to improve the flow of blood. When administered to the penis, blood flow to this area is increased, resulting in an erection usually within 5-30 minutes minutes depending on the method. This is pretty fast in comparison to tablets, however not as convenient.
Alternative treatments include surgical and mechanical devices.
A three-piece implant is inserted across the length of the penis. Then a small balloon-like structure packed with fluid is connected to the abdominal wall. There is then a release button inserted into the testicle. The penis stays flaccid until an erection is desired, the release button can then be pressed by you, or your partner then fluid from the balloon will rush into the plastic tube. When the tube straightens from being filled with the fluid, it pulls the penis up with it, creating an erection.
A vacuum pump is used to create an erection mechanically. This is achieved by forcing blood into the penis using a vacuum seal. Because the blood starts to flow back out once the seal is broken a rubber ring is rolled onto the base of the penis. This stops most of the blood escaping when you remove the vacuum pump.
In many instances experimentation is needed to find the right solution for your needs.
LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor can also provide expert support and advice for men with ED. Visit LloydsPharmacy Online Doctor to begin an ED online consultation with a GP.