Study predicts the sexual functioning of men after prostate cancer treament

September 20, 2011 3:11:55 PM PDT
Thousands of men are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year, many of them at an early stage. In making decisions about their treatment, quality of life issues have emerged as a major concern. One of them is sexual function. Today a new study says there are individual characteristics that can predict outcomes.

Understandably, sexual function after treatment has emerged as a major concern for many couples. It's a conversation that should and is taking place and doctors now may be able to give patients more information.

Gary Schwandt received and lived with a diagnosis of prostate cancer for more than a year. When his physicians told him things had changed he knew exactly what to do.

"It was pretty clear to me that the cleanest, best outcome relative to cancer was to have surgery, and have it done once and for all," he said.

He also knew that function issues were possible after treatment. However, not all men experience the same outcomes or even address the issue with their physicians.

"Having the discussion with Dr. [Martin] Sanda about what might happen after the fact was very important," Schwandt said. "It was very helpful to my wife. It was very helpful to me."

Dr. Sanda, from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, and co-authors studied 2,600 men nationwide, evaluating their sexual quality of life before and two years after prostate cancer treatment.

"We really set out to be able to better individualize what men can expect in terms of their outcome," he said.

The men Dr. Sanda studied filled out a questionnaire.

"We could really individualize how we could predict as to whether a man would recover sexual functioning based on that man's age, of the severity of their cancer and, very importantly, based on what their sexual functioning score, their response to the questionnaires was before treatment," Dr. Sanda said.

The study appears in this week's Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study predicts men who might be younger or might be on the favorable end of having excellent function before treatment should expect a 70 percent or higher prospect for recovering their sexual functioning.

Researchers also say men experiencing sexual function problems before treatment or those with more severe cancers may be looking at less favorable percentages.

"I think our study highlights that issues related to sexuality can be brought on the table," Dr. Sanda said. "Patients can be informed as to what they can expect and it doesn't have to be a black box of uncertainty as to what will happen moving forward."

Today, Gary Schwandt is cancer free and moving forward.