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What Happens Next: Life After Prostate Cancer Treatment

Overview

life after prostate cancer

Every year, about 180,890 new cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed. Approximately 1 out of 7 men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer.

Although this can be a serious disease, many men who have prostate cancer successfully navigate treatment and continue with their lives. Here’s what you need to know about life after you’ve completed your treatment.

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Care plan

Creating a care plan

If you’re ending prostate cancer treatments, you and your doctor should discuss a care plan.

You may have frequent appointments in the first weeks and months after you end treatment. This allows your doctor to chart your progress, track any changes, and spot any new issues before they become advanced. These appointments will likely become less frequent as time goes on.

In most cases, your doctor will recommend that you come in for a checkup and prostate-specific antigen (PSA) test twice a year for the first five years after treatment. After that, an annual checkup may be all your doctor requires.

You’ll also want to discuss your risk for recurrence. Your doctor can help you map steps to lessen your risk and alleviate any symptoms you may still be experiencing.

Appointments

Keeping up with appointments and screenings

Attending your doctors’ appointments after you’ve entered remission is very important. If you need to skip an appointment, you should make another appointment as soon as possible.

Use these appointments as a time to discuss any concerns you may have with your doctor. Your doctor can also conduct tests to check for the cancer’s return during these appointments.

Two tests to detect recurrent prostate cancer include a digital rectal exam (DRE) and a PSA blood test. During a DRE, your doctor will insert a finger into your rectum. If your doctor detects something unusual, they’ll likely ask for additional follow-up tests. These tests may include bone scans and imaging studies, such as an ultrasound or MRI.

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Risks

Risks and side effects of treatment

Men often experience side effects from their prostate cancer treatments. Some of these side effects may be immediate and temporary. Others may take several weeks or months to show up and never fully disappear.

Common side effects from prostate cancer treatment include:

Urinary problems

Being unable to hold urine, or experiencing urine leakage, is common after treatment, especially if you’ve had surgery. Radiotherapy may irritate the sensitive lining of the bladder and urethra. This can make you feel like you need to urinate more frequently and with greater urgency.

Erectile dysfunction (ED)

Trouble getting and keeping an erection is common following prostate cancer treatment. This may be an issue for several months or even years following cancer treatment. Some men may be able to resolve this with treatment for ED.

Dry orgasm and infertility

Both the prostate and the glands responsible for semen production are removed during surgery, which is a common prostate cancer treatment. If you received this treatment, you’d still be able to have an orgasm but you’d no longer ejaculate.

This means that you’ll no longer be fertile. If you plan to have children in the future, you may consider banking your sperm before your surgery.

Fatigue

The effects of some prostate cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy, may cause you to experience fatigue and tiredness. These symptoms may begin during treatment and continue after you’ve entered remission.

Learn more: Will prostate cancer affect your sex life? »

Lifestyle changes

Will you need to make any lifestyle changes?

It’s natural to be concerned about recurrence. You can make lifestyle changes to reduce the likelihood of your cancer returning.

Exercise regularly

Getting regular physical exercise and staying active is a great way to boost your overall health. Additionally, research shows that men who exercise after prostate cancer treatment may be less likely to die than men who don’t. A 2008 study also shows that men who are overweight or obese may have a poorer outcome than men who are at a healthy weight if their cancer returns.

Stop smoking

A 2011 study found that men who smoke at the time they’re diagnosed have an increased risk of death compared to men who were not smoking. Additionally, men who quit smoking for at least 10 years have a similar or reduced risk for prostate cancer-related death when compared to men who’ve never smoked.

Seek treatment for sexual health

Men who undergo prostate cancer treatment often experience ED in the weeks and months following treatment. Sometimes, this is temporary. In other cases, it may be more persistent. Talk with your doctor about your options and how you might be able to restore your sexual health.

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Relapse

What if the cancer returns?

Twenty to 30 percent of men who’ve been treated for prostate cancer experience recurrence. In many cases, recurrent prostate cancer is found during follow-up visits. Men who’ve had prostate cancer may be more likely to develop other types of cancer.

If your doctor finds that your cancer has returned, the two of you should address these questions:

  • Is a more advanced treatment option available this time?
  • Should you consider surgery?
  • How quickly is the cancer progressing?
  • If it’s progressing slowly and you aren’t experiencing symptoms, do you need treatment?

Talk with your family. Getting support from your friends and family or a support group is important as you prepare to make choices about treatments again.

Continue with making healthy lifestyle changes. Although it can be discouraging to receive a new diagnosis, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can be an important aspect of your treatment.

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Support options

Getting support

If your cancer is entering remission and you’re seeking support from men who are in a similar situation, you have several great options:

Yana

Men living with prostate cancer or who have prostate cancer that’s in remission run this website. This is a great place to find a mentor or supportive guide for your treatment course. Sections of the site are also set up for wives and partners. Read survivor stories, email Yana mentors, or scroll through discussion boards for treatment ideas, answers to questions, and more.

Us Too

People who’ve been diagnosed with, are in treatment for, or who are otherwise affected by prostate cancer created this website. You can connect with a support group, call the helpline to speak with a trained support team member, or subscribe to newsletters to find up-to-date treatment options.

Local community groups

Contact your hospital’s education and outreach office. Many local hospitals have support groups for people who have cancer and people who have cancer that’s in remission. Some even offer support groups for caretakers, spouses, and partners.

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Outlook

What you can do now

If you’ve recently entered remission after prostate cancer treatment, that’s wonderful news. The process of keeping a watching for changes and indications that the cancer may have returned starts now.

Remember these things:

Take care of yourself

The healthier you are, the better your cancer recovery may be. It’s never too late to get healthy, either. Men who exercise and maintain a healthy weight are less likely to experience cancer recurrence.

Keep your follow-up appointments

Follow-up appointments help you and your doctor stay on top of your side effects and help your doctor detect cancer if it returns.

Get support

Whether it’s an online community or a local one, find an organization that meets your needs for support, encouragement, and education. You don’t have to go through treatment and remission alone. Many men and families are going through it with you.

Survivor story

Life after treatment: Alan Weiner’s story

When Alan Weiner found out he had prostate cancer, it was “a huge and frightening emotional bomb blast.”

The New York native was diagnosed in February 2014 at age 69. After seeking out opinions from various doctors, Weiner underwent robotic prostatectomy in April at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.

Because of the emotional toll his diagnosis took, Weiner says he found a support group that helped him through that uncertain time in his life. “I joined Gilda’s Club after surgery, but if I had known about it, I would have attended sessions prior to deciding treatment,” he says. “I found a friend who went through the process and was understanding of my anxieties, fears, and projections.”

“I never thought that the emotional aspects of this would be so difficult to deal with,” Weiner adds. “I never believed that the mortality rate of prostate cancer was very low, and I believed that I would be the one who would not make it. I now know that my fears and negative thinking were things most men go through, however.”

Today, Weiner goes for routine checkups, and two years after his initial diagnosis, his PSA level is undetectable. He deals with persistent sexual dysfunction, but the bladder control issues he first experienced after his surgery have resolved.

“There’s always the cloud of recurrence that lurks nearby. I have a choice to live under this cloud constantly or move away from it as much as I can,” he says. “I know that things will never be as they once were, but I go back to the fact that I am alive. This will not kill me, and I must make the most of my life and not be handicapped by what ‘may happen.’”

Keep reading: The best prostate cancer blogs of the year »

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