Although prostate cancer is the second leading cause of death due to cancer in American men, only about 3 percent of men actually die from prostate cancer. This is partly due to the fact that there are so many varied and successful methods for treating prostate cancer, at all stages of the disease. Often, however, men do not take the long-term effects of cancer treatment and their post-cancer lifestyle into careful consideration when making treatment decisions. In reality, there is much more to it than just “beating cancer.”
Long-term side effects associated with prostate cancer recovery depend largely on the treatment method. Typically, the more invasive the treatment, the higher the risk for side effects from that treatment. Patients may experience erectile dysfunction, urinary incontinence, infertility, fatigue, and depression among others. Although many men regain these functions over time, studies have shown that some men still experience urinary incontinence and sexual problems even two years after their treatment has ended. Because these statistics show possible lingering issues, men should be sure to adequately educate themselves on their treatment options—and the long-term effects associated with these options—in order to choose what is the best plan of action.
Like caregivers, prostate cancer survivors should consider joining a support group of others going through life after prostate cancer. Navigating through the fears of cancer recurrence and the body’s reaction to treatment can cause apprehension and anxiety. Sometimes talking with family is not enough, but connecting with others who have been through prostate cancer can bond support group members together for the common good. This is also important because it emphasizes how recovery and remission mean something different for everyone.
A man’s prostate cancer may be cured or in remission; nevertheless, he should continue to receive frequent medical examinations to ensure that his cancer does not furtively return. Although the tests may come back negative, it is better to know as soon as possible if cancer were to return. Patients should have a discussion with their doctor to standardize how often they need to be rechecked for prostate cancer. Once this is determined, patients should continue to alert their doctor to any changes in their body, which may signal problems, so the doctor can determine if these may be a cause for alarm. Additionally, doctors will typically recommend PSA level tests every six months or so for the first five years of remission. After that, it is usually acceptable to revert back to an annual PSA test.
In addition to regularly attending doctor’s visits, patients should remember to monitor their nutritional choices to avoid future health problems—both cancer and non-cancer. Avoiding foods that contribute harmful carcinogens and focusing on foods that support a healthy immune system will help maintain a healthy body. While nutrition plays a role in cancer, there are other health-related factors that should be considered, namely exercise. Consistent exercise has been shown to decrease a man’s risk for cancer and increase his body’s ability to combat cancer if it arises. Fighting and beating prostate cancer can take a toll on the human body, but some men may find that a better diet and more exercise will help them maintain their pre-cancer lifestyle and level of fitness.
Overall, every patient has a different journey post-prostate cancer. It is important for patients to develop realistic expectations about post-procedure recovery speeds, as well as the potential long-term side effects of the cancer and treatments. Joining support groups, taking time to visit doctors, and focusing on a healthy diet and exercise can help alleviate some of the difficulties of a post-cancer life.