Prostate Cancer Surgery May Affect Both Partners

When a man has surgery for prostate cancer, it can affect sex for both him and his partner, Swiss researchers have found.

Sexual issues, such as erectile dysfunction (ED) and problems reaching orgasm, are common for men after prostatectomy – removal of the prostate gland. Sometimes, sexual function can come back, but it takes time. For example, it might take men two or three years to have full erections again.

The Swiss study looked at how sexual relationships change for both partners after surgery. They worked with 21 heterosexual couples. On average, the men were about 62 years old and the women were 60.

All of the men had robot-assisted laparoscopic prostatectomy, otherwise known as RALP. With this procedure, a surgeon controls the arms of a specially-designed robot. The robot can hold smaller instruments, allowing the surgeon to make more precise movements with fewer incisions.

A week or two before surgery, the patients and their female partners completed questionnaires about their sexual health and their overall relationship. They filled out the same questionnaires six months after surgery. The researchers compared their responses.

They discovered that both the men’s and women’s sexual function declined, often together. In other words, if a man started having more sexual problems, his partner did, too.

The researchers also found that sexual function was better for both partners if the man had bilateral nerve-sparing surgery.

There are nerves on both sides of the prostate gland. These nerves play an important role in sexual function. In a bilateral procedure, the surgeon tries to keep as many nerves intact as possible on both sides. In a unilateral nerve-sparing procedure, only nerves on one side can remain.

In spite of the sexual challenges, the couples’ relationships did not seem to suffer, based on the questionnaire responses.

Couples who were unable to have vaginal intercourse were still able to have satisfying sex through oral sex and touching, the study authors said.

They acknowledged that their study had some limitations, especially the six-month time frame. Since a man’s ability to have firm erections takes time to recover, future research might look at function two or three years down the road.

The study appears in the March/April edition of The International Journal of Impotence Research.


International Journal of Impotence Research

Tran, S-N, et al.

“Prospective evaluation of early postoperative male and female sexual function after radical prostatectomy with erectile nerves preservation”

(Full-text. March/April 2015)


Rapaport, Lisa

“Prostate cancer surgery may impair sex for both partners”

(February 13, 2015)