Men don’t talk much about their prostate problems. Knees? No such reluctance: “Yeah, the right knee’s been playing up. Might have to skip golf this weekend.” Shoulders? Not a problem: “Mate I dislocated it playing footy 30 years ago. It still pops out every now and then.”
Even at the risk of possible sexual innuendo, men can talk about an injury: “My wrist is killing me.”
But when it comes to something amiss with our prostate, which becomes more likely as we age, we clam up. Why is that?
The most likely reason in most cases is that if the problem is serious, the prostate may require surgery. That, in itself, is not an issue for men. “Check out the size of my scar!”
It’s what may happen after surgery that prompts men to clam up. That’s the potential loss of sexual function. While society no longer expects half of the adult population to be alpha males, many men, even those over 50, link sexual performance to their identity as a ‘real man’.
Around 70 per cent of men lose sexual function after prostate surgery, with erectile dysfunction the key contributor. And of those 70 per cent, I’d wager 95 per cent would not be raising the issue with their mates at the pub.
What, then, can be done to resolve this sensitive issue?
Declaring a prostate of disaster
This reluctance to discuss prostate issues can cause problems long before any sexual dysfunction comes to pass. There’s a poignant irony to this. By broaching the subject at an early stage, you’ll actually reduce the chances of ever suffering from that dysfunction.
That’s because a discussion with mates will probably encourage you to chat to your GP. If you open the line of communication to medical experts early enough, your prognosis is likely very good.
And with a new medical advance being trialled here in Australia, the prognosis will be better still.
The advance comes in the form of a device that’s the size of a thumbnail. This little piece of technology is placed in patients at the time of their prostate removal operation. Once that’s done, it will – in theory at least – regenerate damaged nerves. It is damage done to these nerves during prostate surgery that can result in erectile dysfunction.
According to Royal Melbourne Hospital urological surgeon Philip Dundee, it’s the proximity of these nerves to the prostate that causes trouble. “They run so close to the prostate,” he said. “Sometimes … we have to sacrifice some of those nerves in order to ensure that we get all of the cancer out.”
How hard it can it be?
But the new device could help minimise the impact of such an invasive procedure. And although the trial is at an early stage, the results are very promising. The Herald Sun last week reported that two men have successfully undergone surgery at Royal Melbourne Hospital, both retaining sexual function.
Further trials are about to begin. If successful, those trials could open the way for prostate surgery to be successful in two ways. It could save a life, save a sexual life and save many men from psychological distress.
And that distress is very real. “The psychological impact of sexual dysfunction is devastating to a lot of men,” says Australian Prostate Centre nurse Michael Cromer.
If the new technology proves successful, men will no longer find it so hard to get hard after surgery.
Have you had prostate issues? Were you able to bring yourself to discuss them with friends? Or even your GP? Let us know via the comments section below.
Also read: Older women and sexuality – the times are changing