Prostate cancer uniquely affects key parts of identity: masculinity, sexuality, physical and emotional health. Sometimes we think we should put on a brave face for others, but speaking up and taking action can have real benefits.
Know that you’re not the only person going through this. No question is too small or embarrassing – your care team wants to support you to be at your best. Keep these resources handy and take action for your health today.
There are estimated to be 200,000+ people living with a previous diagnosis of prostate cancer in Australia
– Statistic from Cancer Australia, 2016.
Dedicated organisations understand the complexities of navigating prostate cancer, with support services for you and your family:
- The Prostate Cancer Foundation of Australia (PCFA) is a community organisation and the peak body for prostate cancer in Australia. They operate a free Prostate Cancer Specialist Telenursing Service on 1800 22 00 99 where you can speak with a Prostate Cancer Specialist Nurse over the phone. You may also enjoy peer support. The PCFA runs support groups you can attend to meet others with a direct experience of prostate cancer.
- The Cancer Council operates a free and confidential telephone support service on 13 11 20, with specially trained staff to help with emotions and practical things.
Distress can happen at any point in your cancer journey and may be linked to:
- practical problems such as managing at work
- emotional problems, like nervousness
- physical symptoms, such as bowel issues.
Men with prostate cancer and survivors may have a higher chance of experiencing anxiety or depression. Do you know some of the signs? Anxiety symptoms include obsessive thoughts, panic attacks or feeling wound up. Depression can look like many things, including feeling down, withdrawing from loved ones or sleep problems.
You can turn to:
- Your GP and care team are there to care for you beyond your physical health. You can make an appointment with your GP to discuss your mood and any distress. They will ask you questions and can create a confidential mental health treatment plan. This allows you to claim up to 20 Medicare-rebated sessions with a psychologist in a year.
- Mental health professionals such as counsellors, psychiatrists, psychologists and psycho-oncologists are trained in this area. They can support you with coping skills and are a safe place where you can express your thoughts without judgement.
Beyond Blue is a mental health organisation where you can read more online. The Beyond Blue Support Service is available for immediate phone or chat support with a counsellor.
Managing symptoms and side effects
Cancer rehabilitation at Epworth
Our tailored cancer rehabilitation program gives you access to a team focused on your wellbeing. The team includes a specialist rehab physician, oncology nurse, exercise physiologist, psychologist, dietitian, social worker, occupational therapist and physiotherapist.
They work with you to set specific goals, and you undertake an eight-week program to address what’s important to you. It might be fatigue, pain, strength, body image or work and family.
You can choose when to participate – before treatment, during or afterwards.
Exercise has many proven benefits across physical and mental health. It can help relieve some of the negative effects of cancer and its treatment, including fighting fatigue and supporting a better quality of life.
Speak with your care team before you start, as they can advise what’s right for your health and age. There are also professionals specially trained in prescribing exercise programs for people with cancer, such as accredited exercise physiologists and physiotherapists with experience in cancer care.
Want to exercise but don’t know what to aim for? The Clinical Oncology Society of Australia has weekly recommendations:
- Aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming for at least 150 minutes at a moderate intensity level OR 75 minutes at a vigorous intensity level, AND
- Resistance exercise such as lifting weights, Pilates, household tasks that involve lifting, carrying or digging in two to three sessions that target the major muscle groups.
The Australian Government has inspiration for fitness activities and ways to build activity into your day. Read their information for adults up to 64 years or for 65 years and over. You can start with any amount of movement and continue adding it to your schedule.
Bladder, bowel and pelvic health
Because of where the prostate is, cancer and treatment can impact essential organs and muscles for bladder and bowel health. You may experience incontinence (urinary or faecal leakage or urgency, where you need to rush to a toilet) after prostate cancer treatment. This can create worry around everyday activities like social events or going to the shops.
Incontinence can be isolating, but help is available. You can turn to:
- Your treating urologist and urology nurse can advise on your personal situation. They can outline options for your type of incontinence and the cancer treatment you had. Some people require further urological treatment.
- Continence physiotherapists, also known as pelvic health or pelvic floor physiotherapists, can teach you pelvic floor muscle exercises and other strategies for incontinence and pelvic pain.
- National Continence Helpline 1800 33 00 66 is a free and confidential service where you can talk to a nurse continence specialist about bladder and bowel health and continence products.
- National Public Toilet Map toiletmap.gov.au is a website and app to find public toilets wherever you go.
Epworth provides comprehensive cancer services, including palliative care. Palliative care can improve quality of life at any point of prostate cancer, from early through to end-of-life care. It aims to manage symptoms, relieve pain and support you and your family's cultural needs.
Sexual health and erectile dysfunction
Everyone’s experience during prostate cancer or treatment is unique. Some people feel tired or experience a decrease in their sex drive. Prostate cancer treatment can impact the ability to gain or keep an erection, known as erectile dysfunction.
Erectile function after treatment is usually linked to function before treatment and any existing medical conditions. Many men are surprised that there are options to help, such as medications and penile injections.
Remember, prostate cancer is not the end of intimacy or your sex life. You can have a confidential and judgement-free conversation about sexual health with your specialist, urology nurse or GP. Ask them what’s available and who can help. You may like to see a psychologist or sex counsellor to work through changes to sexual function, sex drive or appearance.
In addition to working with professionals, it helps to keep habits such as exercise and eating well with fruits and vegetables, wholegrains and water.
Listen to our podcast episode on erectile dysfunction from the E.J. Whitten Prostate Cancer Research Centre at Epworth.