Empowerment beyond prostate cancer: A sexologist shares signs, risk factors and sexual wellness tips for cancer survivors.
Navigating a diagnosis of prostate cancer can be an intimidating journey, especially for cancer survivors. As a dedicated sexologist specialising in supporting individuals through this challenging experience, I understand the profound impact it can have. In this space, I aim to shed light on the importance of early detection – a pivotal factor in successful treatment and recovery. Join me as I explore the crucial aspects and guidelines every man should be aware of regarding prostate cancer screenings.
Signs and risk factors that may indicate a need for prostate cancer screening
Age: Prostate cancer is more common in men over the age of 50. Men in this age group should talk to their doctor about whether they should get screened.
Family history: Men with a family history of prostate cancer are at higher risk of developing the disease themselves. If your father, brother, or other close male relative has had prostate cancer, you should talk to your doctor about getting screened.
Urinary symptoms: Prostate cancer can cause urinary symptoms such as frequent urination, difficulty starting or stopping urination, weak urine flow, or pain or burning during urination.
Erectile dysfunction: Prostate cancer can also cause erectile dysfunction (ED), which is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection sufficient for sexual activity.
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms or have any of these risk factors, it’s important to talk to your doctor about getting screened for prostate cancer. The most common screening test is a blood test called the prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test. This test measures the level of PSA in your blood, which can be an indicator of prostate cancer.
In addition to getting screened, there are also lifestyle changes you can make to reduce your risk of developing prostate cancer. These include eating a healthy diet that’s high in fruits and vegetables plus low in red meat and processed foods, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking or using tobacco products, and limiting alcohol consumption.
Mastering prostate health with understanding and awareness
If you’re still unsure about navigating prostate health, here are some key terms to note, including side effects and maintaining sexual health in the process.
Prostate-specific antigen (PSA): A protein produced by the prostate gland that can be measured through a blood test. Elevated levels of PSA can indicate the presence of prostate cancer.
Gleason score: A grading system used to determine the aggressiveness of prostate cancer based on the appearance of cancer cells under a microscope.
Active surveillance: A strategy in which men with low-risk prostate cancer are monitored closely rather than undergoing immediate treatment.
Radical prostatectomy: Surgery to remove the entire prostate gland, often used for more aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
Radiation therapy: Treatment using high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells.
One of the most common side effects of prostate cancer treatment is loss of erectile function, also known as erectile dysfunction (ED). This can be caused by damage to nerves or blood vessels during surgery or radiation therapy. In addition, hormonal therapy used to treat prostate cancer can lower testosterone levels, which can also affect sexual function.
These terms may sound scary, especially for those wondering how to maintain their sexual wellness along the way. Luckily, it’s not all doom and gloom.
Unlocking tips for a healthy sexual journey
My recommendation? Try pelvic floor exercises. Kegel exercises can improve bladder control and strengthen the muscles that support erectile function. Gentle genital massages can also increase blood flow to the penis and improve sexual function. Or, use a water-based lubricant to reduce discomfort during sex and boost sexual pleasure.
There’s also penile rehabilitation, which involves using medication or devices such as vacuum pumps to improve blood flow to the penis and maintain erectile function after treatment. Testosterone replacement therapy can address low testosterone levels and improve sexual function as well. Alternatively, some men find relief from sexual side effects through alternative therapies such as acupuncture or yoga.
Ultimately, if the struggle gets too overwhelming, working with a sexologist can help address any emotional or psychological issues related to sexual function and provide coping strategies. You may also want to reach out to other healthcare professionals such as a urologist or physical therapist to address sexual health concerns.
Finally, joining a prostate cancer support group provides a safe space for you to share your experiences with others who understand what you’re going through. You can find these through organisations such as the Singapore Cancer Society (where I’m a resident sexologist) and the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Your well-being is our priority and knowledge is the first step towards empowerment and proactive health management. Remember, you are not alone on this journey. Reach out for support when you need it; there is hope and healing beyond prostate cancer.