Some possible physical effects on men
It can help to know a bit about the male sex organs and how the possible effects of cancer and its treatment might affect your sex life.
The male sex organs
A man’s sex organs are mostly outside his body. They include the penis and the testicles (testes or balls). The testicles produce sperm and are contained in a skin sack called the scrotum. The rest of a man’s sex organs are inside his body. The prostate gland is deep inside the pelvis. This makes a fluid that mixes with sperm to make semen. Near to this is the bladder, the lower end of the large bowel and some lymph nodes (also called lymph glands).
- It may be difficult to get an erection (hard-on) if cancer or its treatment has damaged the nerves and blood vessels in the pelvis. Surgery or radiotherapy to the pelvic area can do this.
- Low levels of the male hormone testosterone can cause a lack of interest in sex. Low levels of testosterone can also make it difficult to get an erection. This can sometimes happen if you’ve had radiotherapy or surgery to the testicles (balls). It also sometimes happens if you’ve had treatment affecting the gland in the brain called the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland produces hormones that control the production of testosterone by the testicles.
- Surgery to remove a testicle (called orchidectomy) doesn’t usually affect your sex life. If you have both testicles removed (which isn’t common), you’ll be given testosterone to replace what is no longer made by your testicles. You can still have sex but you won’t be making sperm, so you won’t be able to make someone pregnant.
What can help?
If you’re having problems getting an erection, this may go away on its own after a while. However, treatments are available and these include:
- vacuum pumps that are put over the penis
- tablets that can help you have an erection, such as sildenafil (Nipatra®, Revatio®, Viagra®, Vizarsin®), vardenafil (Levitra®) and tadalafil (Adcirca®, Cialis®)
- pellets that are put into the tip of the penis
- injections into the base of the penis.
A vacuum pump is a tube that can help you get an erection. A doctor or nurse will show you the pump and explain how to use it. Although it sounds a bit strange, it can be very effective.
It’s also important to remember that you don’t need to have a fully erect penis to have sex. There are many other ways of having satisfying sex. You can talk to the doctors or nurses at your hospital about this.
If you are having any problems with your sex life, try to talk to your doctor or nurse. You may feel embarrassed, but they will be able to tell you about things that can help. You could also contact the nurses on our support line on 0808 808 00 00, or the Sexual Advice Association helpline.
We have more information about the effects of pelvic radiotherapy which has been written for men of all ages.