Erectile Dysfunction

Can you get an erection if you have prostate cancer?


One out of eight men in the US are likely to end up with prostate cancer. The statistics for erectile dysfunction is higher with around 52% suffering from some form of ED. There is a feeling that people with prostate cancer will have difficulty in getting an erection. Let’s take a good look at answers to the question can you get an erection if you have prostate cancer?

Link between prostate cancer and ED

Prostate cancer will not directly cause any effect on erection. But different treatments for prostate cancer can affect erection. Most treatments for prostate cancer can damage nerves, blood vessels, and tissues. This will, in turn, have an effect on erection.

How does erection happen?

To understand the link between prostate cancer treatment and erection, it is important to learn more about erection. An erection is actually a physiological response that involves certain nerves, blood vessels, hormones, and psychological factors. Here are the different actions that make an erection possible

  • Arousal: Sexual stimulation can be physical or psychological. This causes a release of neurotransmitters in the brain. This starts the erection process.
  • Nitric Oxide Release: Nitric oxide is released after arousal. This relaxes the smooth muscle cells in the walls of blood vessels in the penis. This causes the blood vessels to widen, which increases blood flow to the penis, causing an erection.
  • Blood Flow: When the blood vessels are widened, due to nitric oxide, it causes increased flow of oxygen-rich blood into certain arteries. This floods tissues around the penis, making the penis hard.
  • Trapping of Blood: When blood fills the spongy tissue, the veins that usually allow blood to leave the penis are tightened. This traps blood within the tissues and causes the erection to stay longer.
  • Nervous System Involvement: The nervous system is responsible for controlling blood flow and the timing of erection and ejaculation.
  • Endothelial Function: This is the inner lining of blood vessels that releases nitric oxide. Due to cardiovascular disease, blood flow to the penis can be affected.
  • Hormones: Testosterone plays an important role in maintaining sexual desire. Due to hormone imbalances erection can be affected.
  • Psychological Factors: Certain feelings like sexual desire, arousal, and emotions play a role in erections. People with stress, anxiety, depression, and relationship issues may find it difficult to have one.
  • Physical Health: Overall physical health, for example cardiovascular health, diabetes, and neurological function, contribute to an erection.

What are the different treatments for prostate cancer?

Now, it is time to look at the different treatments for prostate cancer, which depends on the stage of the cancer, and health condition.  

  • Surgery: Surgical removal of the prostate gland is done for localized prostate cancer.
  • Radiation Therapy: Use of high-energy rays to target and destroy cancer cells is used for localized prostate cancer or after surgery.
  • Hormone Therapy: This is to lower the levels of male hormones like testosterone, that are known to stimulate the growth of prostate cancer cells.
  • Chemotherapy: Drugs are used to kill or slow the growth of cancer cells in advanced stages of prostate cancer.
  • Targeted Therapy: Drugs specifically target certain proteins that cause the growth and spread of cancer cells. This is used for advanced prostate cancer.
  • Immunotherapy: This helps the body's immune system to identify and attack cancer cells.
  • Cryoablation and High-Intensity Focused Ultrasound: These techniques use extreme cold or focused ultrasound waves to destroy cancer cells. Used mostly for localized prostate cancer.

How do these treatments affect erection?

These treatments can affect erection due to possible damage to the nerves, blood vessels, and tissues involved in an erection. Here is how different treatments affect erection:

  • Surgery: This can result in damage to the nerves and blood vessels that have a role in erection. Procedures cause some degree of damage to nerves. These effects could be temporary or long-term.
  • Radiation Therapy: This can damage blood vessels and nerves in the pelvic region, causing ED. The risk of getting ED from radiation therapy increases over time after the treatment.
  • Hormone Therapy: This lowers testosterone levels that can affect sexual desire and erection.

How to handle erection problems?

To handle erection problems from the above reasons, certain options are available, as listed below:

Oral medicines: Sildenafil, tadalafil, and vardenafil are commonly prescribed to improve blood flow to the penis and help get erections.

Penile Injections: Injections of medications directly into the penis can cause an erection by relaxing the blood vessels.

Penile Implants: Surgical implants in the penis can help get erections.  

Vacuum Erection Devices: A vacuum causes drawing of blood into the penis, creating an erection. After this, a ring is placed at the base of the penis to maintain the erection.

Psychotherapy and Counseling: It is important to manage the emotional and psychological aspects of ED. This helps support treatment and recovery.

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