Sex and Men With Cancer -- Overview

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Radiation and sex

Prostate, bladder, and colon cancer are often treated with radiation to the lower belly. This can cause problems with erections. Radiation can damage the vessels that carry blood to the penis. As the treated area heals, scars can form inside. The walls of the blood vessels may not be able to stretch enough to let blood rush in and make a firm erection. Besides causing blood vessel damage, radiation may harm the nerves that control erection. It can take as long as up to 2 years for the effects on erections to be noticed.

About 2 out of 5 men who get radiation will notice that their erections change for the worse. This change often happens slowly, over the first year or so after treatment. Some men will still have full erections but lose them before climax. Others no longer get firm erections at all. The older you are, the more likely it is you will have problems with erections after radiation.

A few men will make less testosterone after radiation. But testosterone levels usually go back up within 6 months after radiation. So, extra hormones may not be needed. (Men with prostate cancer should not take testosterone, since it can make prostate cancer cells grow faster.)

Radiation to the prostate can also reduce the amount of semen that comes out during ejaculation.

Last Medical Review: 05/16/2013
Last Revised: 06/12/2013