What is pelvic exenteration in men?

Pelvic exenteration is an operation that’s sometimes used to treat cancer in the pelvis. It involves removing the bladder, part of the lower bowel (rectum) and the prostate. This operation is only done if there are no signs of cancer anywhere else in the body.

Only specialist surgeons, who are trained and experienced in doing this type of surgery, should carry out pelvic exenteration. So, you may need to be referred to a specialist centre for the operation. Before making the decision to go ahead with any surgery, it’s important to discuss the benefits and risks with your surgeon. This is a major operation, but it can cure the cancer in some people.

Before the operation, you will be referred to a specialist cancer nurse, who will give you information and emotional support. In some units, the specialist nurse may be called your key worker.

When pelvic exenteration may be done in men

This operation may be used to treat men who have rectal cancer that has come back in the pelvis after treatment. Rarely, pelvic exenteration may be used to treat other cancers in the pelvis.

The pelvic exenteration operation

In this operation, the bladder, the rectum, anus and prostate are removed.

After the operation, you’ll have two new openings (stomas) on your tummy wall. One of these will be a new place for urine to leave your body, called a urostomy. The other will be a new place for bowel motions to leave your body, called a colostomy.

Illustration showing the male pelvic organs. The areas removed during total pelvic exenteration are shaded over.
Illustration showing the male pelvic organs. The areas removed during total pelvic exenteration are shaded over.

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How should I prepare for a pelvic exenteration?

You will have lots of tests and scans to make sure pelvic exenteration is suitable for you

Having a pelvic exenteration

Pelvic exenteration takes about eight hours. After the operation, you will have new ways for urine and bowel motions to leave your body.

What happens after surgery?

After pelvic exenteration, you will have to stay in hospital for 2–3 weeks.

Recovering after a pelvic exenteration

Recovery after pelvic exenteration can take a long time. Try to take it slowly until you have more energy.

Impact on sex life

Pelvic exenteration will cause changes to your sex life. Your doctor will be able to explain more about this to you.

Your feelings

It’s normal to feel worried and angry about having major surgery. There are lots of people and organisations who can help you with these feelings.