Prostate Cancer: Coping with Treatment

Approved by the Cancer.Net Editorial Board, 09/2020

ON THIS PAGE: You will learn more about coping with the physical, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer and its treatment. Use the menu to see other pages.

Every cancer treatment can cause side effects or changes to your body and how you feel. For many reasons, people do not experience the same side effects even when they are given the same treatment for the same type of cancer. This can make it hard to predict how you will feel during treatment.

As you prepare to start cancer treatment, it is normal to fear treatment-related side effects. It may help to know that your health care team will work to prevent and relieve side effects. Doctors call this part of cancer treatment “palliative care" or "supportive care.” It is an important part of your treatment plan, regardless of your age or the stage of disease.

Coping with physical side effects

Common physical side effects from each treatment option for prostate cancer are listed in the Types of Treatment section. Learn more about side effects of cancer and its treatment, along with ways to prevent or control them. Changes to your physical health depend on several factors, including the cancer’s stage, the length and dose of treatment, and your general health. Any discussion of side effects should also cover fertility, sexual health and function, and bladder function.

Talk with your health care team regularly about how you are feeling. It is important to let them know about any new side effects or changes in existing side effects. If they know how you are feeling, they can find ways to relieve or manage your side effects to help you feel more comfortable and potentially keep any side effects from worsening.

You may find it helpful to keep track of your side effects so it is easier to explain any changes with your health care team. Learn more about why tracking side effects is helpful.

Sometimes, physical side effects can last after treatment ends. Doctors call these long-term side effects. They call side effects that occur months or years after treatment late effects. Treating long-term side effects and late effects is an important part of survivorship care. Learn more by reading the Follow-up Care section of this guide or talking with your doctor.

Coping with sexual side effects

The treatment for prostate cancer can affect your sexual health. Some sexual side effects may be temporary and go away within a year after treatment, but some can be long lasting. Side effects that change sexual health can affect a person mentally, emotionally, and physically. Talk with your health care team about how your treatment will affect your sexual health. If you have a sexual partner, it can help to have an honest conversation with them about what worries you and what you expect may happen.

  • Loss of sexual desire. Treatments that reduce testosterone can lower your sexual desire. This will make you less interested in physical intimacy and having sex. It can also cause erectile dysfunction. There are no medical treatments to increase sexual desire, but treatments that lower testosterone may be temporarily stopped to let testosterone levels rise again. Fortunately, sexual desire is also influenced by other factors, such as relationship satisfaction, self-esteem, and psychological health. Because desire can be significantly dampened by loss of testosterone, it is important to learn how to optimize these other elements. Read a Cancer.Net Blog post about coping with the loss of sexual desire.

  • Erectile dysfunction. Erectile dysfunction or ED is when you cannot have or keep a penile erection. There are medications to help treat this condition, as well as medical devices like suppositories and a penile pump or implant. Read a Cancer.Net Blog post about asking for help with erectile problems.

  • Less semen and dry orgasm. Treatment may cause your orgasms to have less semen. Some treatments may result in orgasm with no semen at all. When this happens, it is called a dry orgasm. Having less or no semen does not affect a person’s feelings of pleasure during orgasm. However, it does affect your chances of fathering a child.

  • A smaller penis. Some patients may find that their penis shrinks by up to an inch after treatment, particularly after prostatectomy. Some research has found that this side effect is temporary, and the penis regains its size after a year. If this happens to you, speak with your health care team about penile rehabilitation, which can help with the recovery of the health of your penis.

There are many ways you can manage or cope with the sexual side effects of prostate cancer. The first step is to speak with your health care team about your sexual health, even if it makes you feel uncomfortable. Sexual recovery is an important part of quality of life, and your health care team can direct you to sources of help.

It will also be important to think about sexual arousal and intimacy in different ways. It may take longer to become aroused, you may feel distracted or anxious about cancer, and you may be uncomfortable talking with your partner about changes in your body image or erectile function. Often, it is helpful to focus on other forms of intimacy and sensual touch, such as kissing and cuddling, in order to enhance connection and jumpstart a sense of closeness and satisfaction. Most importantly, make time to communicate with your partner and seek help if you need it.

Cancer.Net has a page on sexual health for men, as well as a podcast about sexual health in people with prostate cancer and a general fact sheet that provides an overview of the sexual side effects of cancer.

Coping with emotional and social effects

You can have emotional and social effects after a cancer diagnosis. This may include dealing with difficult emotions, such as sadness, anxiety, or anger, or managing your stress level. Sometimes, people find it difficult to express how they feel to their loved ones. Some have found that talking to an oncology social worker, counselor, or member of the clergy can help them develop more effective ways of coping and talking about cancer.

You can also find coping strategies for emotional and social effects in a separate section of this website. This section includes many resources for finding support and information to meet your needs.

Coping with the costs of cancer care

Cancer treatment can be expensive. It is often a big source of stress and anxiety for people with cancer and their families. In addition to treatment costs, many people find they have extra, unplanned expenses related to their care. For some people, the high cost of medical care stops them from following or completing their cancer treatment plan. This can put their health at risk and may lead to higher costs in the future. Patients and their families are encouraged to talk about financial concerns with a member of their health care team. Learn more about managing financial considerations in a separate part of this website.

Caring for a loved one with cancer

Family members and friends often play an important role in taking care of a person with prostate cancer. This is called being a caregiver. Caregivers can provide physical, practical, and emotional support to the patient, even if they live far away.

Caregivers may have a range of responsibilities on a daily or as-needed basis, including:

  • Providing support and encouragement

  • Talking with the health care team

  • Giving medications

  • Helping manage symptoms and side effects

  • Coordinating medical appointments

  • Providing a ride to and from appointments

  • Assisting with meals

  • Helping with household chores

  • Handling insurance and billing issues

Learn more about caregiving.

Talking with your health care team about side effects

Before starting treatment, talk with your doctor about possible side effects. Ask:

  • Which side effects are most likely?

  • When are they likely to happen?

  • What can we do to prevent or relieve them?

Be sure to tell your health care team about any side effects that happen during treatment and afterward, too. Tell them even if you do not think the side effects are serious. This discussion should include physical, emotional, social, and financial effects of cancer.

Also, ask how much care you may need at home and with daily tasks during and after treatment. This can help you make a caregiving plan. Create a caregiving plan with this 1-page fact sheet that includes an action plan to help make caregiving a team effort. This free fact sheet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print.

Looking for More on How to Track Side Effects?

Cancer.Net Mobile app symptom tracker

Cancer.Net offers several resources to help you keep track of your symptoms and side effects. Please note that these links will take you to other sections of Cancer.Net:

  • Cancer.Net Mobile: The free Cancer.Net mobile app allows you to securely record the time and severity of symptoms and side effects.

  • ASCO Answers Managing Pain: Get this 32-page booklet about the importance of pain relief that includes a pain tracking sheet to help patients record how pain affects them. The free booklet is available as a PDF, so it is easy to print out.

  • ASCO Answers Fact Sheets: Read 1-page fact sheets on anxiety and depression, diarrhea, rash, and immunotherapy side effects that provide a tracking sheet to record details about the side effect. These free fact sheets are available as a PDF, so they are easy to print, fill out, and give to your health care team.

The next section in this guide is Follow-up Care. It explains the importance of checkups after cancer treatment is finished. Use the menu to choose a different section to read in this guide.