Patients facing treatment for prostate cancer expect to be warned of certain dismal side effects: erectile dysfunction and incontinence, for instance. But a new study suggests men should be warned of another possible complication: a shorter penis.
The new report found that a small number of men enrolled in a prostate cancer study complained to their doctors that their penises seemed shorter following treatment (though no actual measurements were taken). Some of the men reported that even this perception of a shortened penis interfered with their intimate, emotional relationships and caused them to regret the type of treatment they chose.
Prostate cancer is the second most common cancer in men, with about 241,740 new cases diagnosed last year, according to the American Cancer Society. Obviously prostate cancer can be serious: it’s the second leading cause of cancer death (behind lung cancer) in American men.
But most men diagnosed with prostate cancer will live — and live with the short- and long-term implications of the type of treatment they choose to undergo. While the problems of erectile dysfunction and incontinence are widely known as possible side effects, few studies have been done on treatment-related penile shortening. But doctors say it can and does happen — though it’s rarely discussed with patients.
In the current study, which was based on surveys completed by physicians treating 948 men with recurrent cancer, a total of 25 patients (2.63%) complained of a shorter penis. Complaints were most common in men who underwent surgery to have their prostate removed (19 of 510 men) and those treated with male hormone-blocking drugs combined with radiation therapy (6 of 225 men), researchers report. None of the men on radiation therapy alone complained of this particular problem.
These numbers are clearly small; but researchers say the phenomenon, due to its intimate nature, is likely underreported. The takeaway from this study, they say, is that the possibility of a slightly shorter penis after treatment should be made clear to patients as they consider their therapeutic options; a frank discussion upfront might minimize later regret. “Physicians should discuss the possibility of this rarely mentioned side effect with their patients to help them make more informed treatment choices,” the study, published in the medical journal Urology, concludes.
Lead author Paul L. Nguyen, M.D., a radiation oncologist at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center in Boston, said the novelty of the work is that it shows how even the perception of a shorter penis can profoundly impact a man’s quality of life and lead to regret. “Some people might think this is frivolous — who cares about a slightly shortened penis — but it really does affect people’s lives,” he said in an interview. “If guys [in the study] had this bad result they were much more likely to regret the path they chose. This is important to talk about up front when people are making their decisions.” Continue reading