Most men who are suffering from advanced prostate cancer experience side effects that can be the result of their illness or the result of certain treatments used to slow the spread of the cancer.
Prostate cancer begins with a tumor developing in the prostate gland. If the cancer spreads outside of the prostate gland to the lymph nodes, bones, or other areas, it is called advanced or metastatic prostate cancer. Although there are no current treatments to cure advanced prostate cancer, there are treatments that can help ease symptoms and control the cancer’s spread.
Often these treatments can cause severe side effects, and some patients may decide that the risk of side effects outweighs the benefits of treatment and will opt out of treatment for their advanced prostate cancer.
Researchers are constantly searching for new and better cancer treatments that offer fewer side effects, better control the cancer’s spread, and offer longer survival rates.
Male hormones – most specifically testosterone – contribute to the growth of prostate cancer. Cancer specialists are working on new hormone therapies that reduce the amount and activity of testosterone in order to slow the growth of advanced prostate cancer. Endocrine therapy, called androgen ablation, is a primary therapy and the first line of treatment for metastatic prostate cancer.
Many patients who undergo endocrine therapy experience temporary relief from symptoms of advanced prostate cancer. Endocrine therapy may reduce the size of the tumor. It may also reduce levels of prostate specific antigen (PSA) in most prostate cancer patients. When prostate cancer is present, the prostate gland produces PSA in excess amounts.
Although endocrine therapy is meant to relieve some symptoms of the prostate cancer, it comes with its own side effects including weakened boned (osteoporosis), loss of sex drive, impotence and heart problems. Most patients can avoid unnecessary fears and establish better coping skills when they understand the potential side effects of their treatment ahead of time.
Eventually, the majority of advanced prostate cancer patients will stop responding to hormone therapy, a condition which doctors call castrate independent prostate cancer.
One major side effect of most treatments for advanced prostate cancer is impotence, the inability to achieve or maintain an erection. Ninety percent of prostate cancer patients who undergo an orchiectomy – the surgical removal of the testicles – will experience impotence.
Some men who suffer from impotence as a side effect of their cancer treatments are able to regain erections over time, with no medical intervention. Others may need medical assistance to combat impotence, to discuss their options with their physician.
A common side effect of prostate cancer surgery and radiation therapy is incontinence, which is an inability to control urine flow. Most patients will eventually regain urinary control with Kegel exercises to strengthen the sphincter and surrounding pelvic muscles. Medications can also help relieve incontinence. It’s important for patients to discuss the options with their doctors.
Infertility is also a common side effect of most prostate cancer treatments. In some cases, certain techniques can preserve fertility. It is important for the patient to inform his physician that he wants to preserve his fertility before cancer treatments begin.
Prostate cancer most commonly spreads to the bones, causing a painful condition called bone metastases that can weaken bones and contribute to fractures. Unfortunately, endocrine therapy can also weaken bones and make them more susceptible to breaks and fractures. Doctors are able to provide treatments to relieve the pain, support weakened bones and delay or reduce bone fractures in advanced prostate cancer sufferers.
Zoledronate is an effective bisphosphonate used in reducing skeletal problems caused by prostate cancer and endocrine therapy.
A new class of drugs called rank ligand antagonists has been found to offer superior results to zoledronate, reducing skeletal issues in castrate independent prostate cancer and prevent osteoporosis caused by endocrine therapy for non-metastatic prostate cancer.
A serum estrogen receptor modifier known as toremifene, a serum estrogen receptor modifier is used primarily for metastatic breast cancer has also been found to benefit patients suffering from osteoporosis related to prostate cancer.
Speak with your doctor about any symptoms you’re experiencing as a result of advanced prostate cancer, or as a result of cancer treatments.