Improving Symptoms in Men Treated for Prostate Cancer

Updated guidelines intended to help those with side effects from prostate cancer treatment

(RxWiki News) The 10-year survival rate for prostate cancer is about 99 percent, reports the American Cancer Society. While the odds for surviving this disease are great, many of those men are left with unpleasant symptoms from their treatment.

The Michigan Cancer Consortium recently updated guidelines to help primary care doctors manage those symptoms so survivors could continue to live healthy lives.

"Seek medical care for post-treatment symptom help."

The new guidelines were written by Ted Skolarus, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and colleagues. They were updated from guidelines written in 2009.

The authors identified some problem areas for men treated for prostate cancer. These included urinary difficulties, sexual dysfunction, bowel issues and problems related to loss of hormones due to cancer medicine. While many men see specialists, their follow-up months and years after treatment is often the domain of their family doctors.

A panel of experts and focus groups helped the authors select treatment options and issues important to survivors of prostate cancer.

The authors noted that the primary care setting is when the doctor should see whether the patient has symptoms related to prostate cancer treatment. He or she can then suggest ways to help with the problem, as outlined in the guidelines.

The doctor should also ensure the patient is regularly examined to be sure he remains cancer-free. This includes regular blood testing and rectal exams.

Some of the conditions and symptoms men may face after prostate cancer treatment include the following:

  • Erectile dysfunction (a condition in which the patient cannot get or maintain an erection)
  • Weight gain
  • Difficulty with urinary control
  • Osteoporosis (a disease in which bones become brittle and can easily break)

Many of the problems from treatment for prostate cancer improve with time and treatment, the authors noted. For example, most men regain bladder control within a year of treatment, the authors wrote. Erectile dysfunction as a result of prostate cancer treatment can typically be resolved within two years.

The authors noted that patients may still be referred to specialists when needed, but primary care doctors can help prostate cancer survivors in many cases. They also encouraged patients to communicate openly with their doctors and live healthy lifestyles to improve their overall well-being.

Brian Lawenda, MD, national director of Integrative Oncology and Cancer Survivorship at 21st Century Oncology in Las Vegas, told dailyRx News that the guidelines are an excellent resource for primary care doctors who are treating more and more cancer survivors in their practices.

“There are approximately three million men in the U.S. who are living with a current or past diagnosis of prostate cancer," he said. "This means that primary care providers need to become very familiar with the management of this population in terms of screening, diagnosis, treatment options, side effects, complications and survivorship."

Dr. Lawenda commended the authors on their work but said he feels there should be more emphasis on important lifestyle risk factors like diet and exercise.

The updated guidelines appeared Aug. 4 in the online edition of the Journal of Men’s Health.

Dr. Skolarus was a paid consultant for ArborMetrix, Inc., in 2013. The authors disclosed no other conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
August 5, 2014