02 Feb 2019

Study reveals lack of support for sexual side effects of prostate cancer treatment

Over 80 per cent of men struggle with sexual side effects after prostate cancer treatment, but a new study, funded by The Movember Foundation, shows that fewer than half of these are offered the support they need to cope with it.

Over 80 per cent of men living between 18 and 42 months after a diagnosis of prostate cancer struggle with poor sexual function, yet fewer than half of these men are offered any support to cope with it. These findings, just published in the journal Lancet Oncology, point to a serious gap in long-term support for men treated for prostate cancer.

The study, called Life After Prostate Cancer Diagnosis, was led by researchers at four universities across the UK and funded by the Movember Foundation in partnership with Prostate Cancer UK. Over 35,000 men who had been diagnosed with prostate cancer between 18 and 42 months earlier were surveyed, measuring quality of life and wellbeing. It's the largest ever survey of its kind and these are the first set of results to be published.

Although we already knew that men often experience problems getting or keeping an erection after treatment for prostate cancer, this study provides the most conclusive evidence to date not only of the scale of the problem, but the lack of services to help men deal with it. In fact, 81 per cent of men responding to the survey reported their overall sexual function as poor or very poor.

Only 41 per cent of men were offered medications to help improve their sexual function, 23 per cent were offered devices and 15 per cent were offered access to specialist support services. However, 55 per cent of men were offered no support at all. The study also found that younger men (those under the age of 55) were more likely to be offered support than older men, but even in this age group 22 per cent were not offered any support.

Heather Blake, our Director of Support and Influencing said: 

“For some men, it can be months before any erection problems are experienced following their treatment, especially if they’ve received radiotherapy. By this stage follow up appointments may have reduced, with far fewer opportunities to raise any late side effect issues.   

“As a result, too many men are being abandoned without any support for sexual problems – with older men in particular missing out. This simply isn’t good enough. With long term implications including depression and relationship breakdowns, this is a side effect that must not be swept under the carpet, no matter how old the man is, or what treatment he has received.

“These results not only highlight the importance for all men to speak out honestly about their side effects, it’s equally important for all healthcare professionals treating men for prostate cancer to incorporate support for erection problems within post-treatment follow-up plans.”

In a bid to tackle the problem, the Movember Foundation is funding an online self-management programme for people living with prostate cancer, through the global TrueNTH initiative which is available now online. It will provide personalised self-management strategies to help improve sexual wellbeing after prostate cancer.

In addition, the researchers will tailor the results from this study, which included data from all centres in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales, as well as 111 of 136 NHS Trusts in England, to individual Trusts, Cancer Alliances and regional health boards, to enable them to drive service improvement.

There was also a reassuringly positive message to come out of this study, and that is that most men, 18-42 months after a prostate cancer diagnosis – regardless of the stage of disease they were diagnosed with – can expect to have as good a health related quality of life as men in the general population.

If you're concerned about prostate cancer, have been diagnosed with prostate cancer, or are experiencing side effects from your treatment, our specialist nurses are available to support you. Please call on 0800 074 8383 or visit our website. Our online guides can also help you learn new ways to manage if you’ve been affected by symptoms or side effects.